Pacific Baja – A Voyage South from San Diego

It's warmer down south.

Baja Ha-Ha Kickoff Party

Hugh and the bunnies.

Latitude 38's "Grand Poo-Bah"

Greta, West Marine's store


Two boats got a little too friendly.

Sailing to warmer climes.

The 2010 Baja Ha-Ha fleet takes off.

Fresh water from ocean water - at last.

Rocas Soledad

A kelp paddy forms a magic carpet for a dozen seagulls.

Sunset before our first overnight passage.

Sunrise the next morning.

An extinct volcano at San Quintín.

San Quintín.

Another beautiful sunrise as we head south.

A wall of "kelp" suddenly took flight.

Islas San Benito loom eerily in the distance.

Dolphin Welcoming Committee at Cedros Island.

Cedros Island's southwest anchorage.

Southwest Cedros, a beautiful wide bay all to ourselves.

Pelican soaring at Cedros Island.

s/v Groovy at Turtle Bay

Turtle Bay anchorage.

Turtle Bay.

Our boat approaches a waypoint outside Turtle Bay

Rock formations leaving Turtle Bay.

Bahía Asunción

Isla Asunción.


An afternoon guest.

The sun sets behind our passage companions


Sunrise approaching Bahia Santa Maria.

Alone on a bluff.

Black rock mountains protect the north end of

Bahia Santa Maria.

Groovy rests at Bahia Santa Maria

The Pacific Baja California Coast, Mexico

Late October to early November, 2010 - Sunny Southern California, and

its anchorages, had been buried under a fog bank for our entire two

month stay in San Diego.  The sun peeked out here and there, but never

long enough to warm things up or dry them out, and the ten days of rain

in mid-October really took the cake.  Almost everyone around the Police

Dock and the Cruisers Anchorage was heading to Mexico soon, and the

weather map showed exactly why.

The annual Baja Ha-Ha cruisers rally was the focus of attention on

Shelter Island as October progressed.  A record 195 boats signed up for

the two week event, which sails from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas,

making two stops in Turtle Bay and Bahia Santa Maria.  The kick-off

party at West Marine was a hoot.  Held just before Halloween, this was a

crazy costume party where pirates and wenches showed up in full


Most boats in the

rally have a crew of three to five people, and many of them came in

coordinated costumes.  A group of jailbirds, a group of cereal killers

(Cap'n Crunch and all), a group of bird lovers with a real umbrella

cockatoo (who would be sailing too), and of course the requisite crew

from Gilligan's Island were all there.  When Hugh Hefner and his playboy

bunnies made their entrance, all heads turned.

The dignitaries of

the event were also

in costume:  the

"Grand Poo-Bah"

who publishes the

sponsoring magazine Latitude 38,

and Greta the indomitable general

manager of Shelter Island's West

Marine store.  We have found

inspiration in many issues of

Latitude 38, and Greta has helped

us with countless purchases while

outfitting Groovy.

The beer flowed and the music played, but the next

morning was the official start for all those boats, so the

party didn't go too late.  Sadly, San Diego produced yet another rainy morning for their

departure, and when two boats behind us got their anchors fouled, we were secretly glad we

weren't scrambling to leave with the group.

Instead, we hopped in our dinghy and raced out to see the boat parade as it sailed down San Diego harbor and out into the

open ocean.  We listened as the group got coordinated on the VHF radio, setting themselves up to look their best for the

media boats filming for the local television stations.  Despite the poor weather spirits were high, and every crew was looking

forward to getting down south.

Back on our boat, we had faced a delay in our departure because

the watermaker kit we purchased came with two leaky membranes.

The manufacturer gladly replaced them, but waiting for them to

arrive set our schedule back a bit.  What a thrill it was when the new

membranes finally came and we were suddenly able to produce

drinking water from ocean water.

On November 2nd we left San Diego at last, bound first for Ensenada

where we cleared into Mexico and said "hello" and "goodbye" to our

many friends.  Then we cast off on our long sail south.

A large swell had just passed ahead of us down the

coastal waters, causing high surf advisories all along the

west coast as it pounded its way down from the Pacific

Northwest.  Besides the heaving and tossing we felt

onboard, we saw the surf crashing on the Rocas

Soledad rocks as we sailed past.  What a surprise to

see a group of daredevil kayakers out there.

The large swell had swept huge paddies of kelp along

with it.  These kelp carpets undulated along the top of

the water, gathering in groups as the currents pushed

them along, sometimes making it difficult to steer out of

their way.  Many were large enough to be like small

floating islands, making nice resting spots for small

flocks of birds.

We wanted to stop at Puerto Santo Tomas, a few hours south of

Ensenada, but the little cove was blocked by an impenetrable

blanket of kelp.  The next anchorage, Punta Colonet, was far

enough away that we would have arrived at night, so we decided

instead to sail all night and anchor in the anchorage after that, San

Quintín, at dawn.  The sunset was stunning, and the night's

passage was lovely.  There wasn't any wind, so we had to motor

the whole night, but sea was calm and the air was warm.  It was a

new moon too, so the sky was pitch black, blending seamlessly into

the black sea.

Traveling alongside a blip on

the radar screen for an hour, and watching this neighboring boat's navigation light in the

dark, the captain suddenly hailed us on the radio and we chatted for a while.  He was a

delivering a 75 foot motor yacht to La Paz and was going there non-stop.  The balmy night

reminded him of his first night passage twenty years ago, and his dreamy recollections

lent a sense of calm to the intense darkness.  As the sun rose the next morning we felt


San Quintín offers two

anchorages spaced three

miles apart.  We saw

boats at the first

anchorage near the point

but continued on to the

further anchorage by the

beach.  This is a serene

stretch of beach, except for the pounding surf, and we slept like babies after the long night

at sea.  What a surprise it was the next morning to hear on the radio that the boats

anchored by the point had had a really rolly night and didn't sleep a wink.

We left just as day

was dawning, with

another overnight

passage planned

for that night.

As we were motoring along the rippling silver water, I suddenly saw

a wall of kelp blocking our way.  It stretched as far as I could see on

both sides in front of us.  I turned the boat quickly to avoid getting

caught up in it, only to see the entire mass of kelp suddenly take

wing and fly away.

On this passage we would head for Islas San Benito, a tiny group of three islands off the mid-coast of the Baja peninsula.  We

had met the authors of the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Mexico cruising guidebooks while we were in San Diego, and they had

told us that these islands were the most remote, rugged and interesting of all the anchorages on the Baja coast.  Anticipation

of landfall at these wild islands kept our spirits high during a challenging night passage.  There was more than enough wind to

sail, but the seas were sizable, and we lurched along uncomfortably.  The waves repeatedly picked up the whole boat and

heaved it to a new spot.  We felt like we were sitting inside a washing machine in the dark.  "There isn't anything about this that

I like," Mark said miserably.  "And I'm so wide-eyed, I don't think I could open my eyes any wider!"

When morning arrived, our expectations were

quite high for these fabled islands, so what a

disappointment it was to have the weather

suddenly grow grim and cold.  There would be

little incentive to get off the boat in layers of

jackets and hats to go hiking, and the anchorage

was a bed of kelp paddies to boot.

Totally let down, we turned the boat towards the

next anchorage, a nearby bay on the southwest end of Cedros Island.  The guidebooks had little to say about this anchorage,

so we arrived with no expectations whatsoever.  Suddenly, a group of dolphins came leaping towards the boat.  While I ran for

the camera, Mark watched one dolphin leap straight up in the air five or six times, shooting up like a rocket out of the water.

His show was over by the time I got my lens cap off, but the rest of the dolphin welcoming committee provided great

entertainment for us as we motored into the bay.

The bay was immense, several miles across, and would

provide great accommodation for hundreds of boats.  It is off

the beaten track, however, and we were the only boat there

for the night.  Other than one fishing panga (pronounced

"ponga"), we didn't see a soul while we were there.  The

pelicans were numerous, however, and we watched them

flying and fishing all around us.  Again, we were spared from

any swell and we slept deeply.

When we left Cedros the next morning, fully rested and recovered

after that difficult previous night's passage sloshing about at sea, the

radio crackled with the conversations between other boats.  Boats hail

each other by name on the radio, and we recognized the names of

many boats we had seen at the Police Dock and the Cruisers

Anchorage back in San Diego.  Boats talk directly to one another, but

the airwaves are open to all, and most boaters eavesdrop on the

conversations of others.  We were surprised to hear what a difficult

time everyone had had over the past two days.  We weren't the only

ones who had been pitched and tossed while crossing the

Vizcaíno bay, but we were the only ones who had found a

peaceful anchorage for a good night's sleep.  All the other boats

had spent the night on the north and east side of Cedros island

(we had been at the southwest end), and not only had they seen

wind gusts to 50 knots (we saw only 25 knots), but one boat

dragged its anchor a mile out to sea, where the sole person

aboard woke up with a shock to find himself nowhere near land.

Everyone was making their way towards Turtle Bay, and we joined

the procession into the anchorage late that afternoon.  Turtle Bay

is the first stop for the Baja Ha-Ha rally, so we had heard a lot

about this anchorage.  We hopped in our kayak and paddled

around to visit friends' boats.  However, the cold air and biting

wind sent us back to the boat in a hurry.  We didn't feel inclined to

go ashore through the choppy, nippy waves, so we stayed aboard

for a day and two nights, tidying up the boat, cat-napping, and

preparing for the upcoming segments of our trip.

I still find myself amazed at the electronic navigation equipment used

by boats today.  Growing up in the era of paper charts and parallel

rulers, the power of an electronic chartplotter is stunning.  Gone are

the days where you held the boat's wheel in one hand and a folded

chart in the other, squinting at the horizon and twisting the chart

around, trying to decide whether the bump of land in front of you is

the island on this part of the chart or the peninsula on that part of the

chart.  Now you move a cursor to where you want to go and press

the "Go to cursor" button.  Not only does the boat magically take you

there, correcting for any wayward currents as it goes, but the chart is

displayed with the boat at the center, and continually turns as the

boat turns, so you never have any question about where you are or

what you are looking at.  Where the chart may be wrong (as is often

the case in Mexico because the original survey data is half a century

old), a radar overlay identifies the exact contours of the land.  Truly,

every conceivable element of guesswork has been eliminated.

Our sail from Turtle Bay to Asunción was a delight.  Bright sunshine

and lively wind combined to make a great sailing day.  We have

rigged Groovy with two headsails, and we had a chance to fly them

together.  We haven't perfected the rig yet, but it made for a

powerful downwind setup.  An unexpected hail from another boat

yielded warm compliments on the rig.  "It looks like the petals of a


The views along the coastline were dramatic too.  Huge striated

rock mountains burst up along the shoreline.

Many boats headed south were buddy-boating, moving down the

coast in pairs.  We followed the radio conversations of many of these

pairs of boats, getting a sense of their planned itineraries and the

challenges and joys they had experienced so far.  During our sail to

Asunción we were overtaken by a pair of boats that had been

together since San Diego, Wendaway and Maja.  We were friends

with the folks on Maja, but our schedules hadn't quite meshed at the

beginning of our trip so we hadn't sailed together yet.  Now, on our

way to Asunción, we reconnected.  And what lucky timing, as they

caught a 14 lb yellow fin tuna en route and shared the spoils when

we got to the anchorage.  Yum!

We planned to do a short (20 mile) daysail from Asunción to San

Hipólito, but once we got out on the water the wind picked up and we

were flying along at 8.5 knots having a blast.  As we neared San

Hipólito the conditions were too perfect to take the sails down and call

it a day.  So we carried on towards Abreojos where Maja and

Wendaway were heading.  No sooner had we decided to sail the extra

30 miles with them to Abreojos than the wind began to howl.  "Should

we reef?" (shorten the sails to go a little slower), we asked each other.

Just at that moment the boat hit 9.2 knots and threatened to broach

(roll over on its side a little further than is comfortable).  That

answered that, and we scrambled to take in the sails a bit.  Of course,

no sooner did we get the sails set up for high winds than the wind died

all together, shifted direction, and then blew a nice gentle breeze on

us for the rest of the afternoon.

Abreojos means "Open eyes" in Spanish, and this is a

really good idea to do as you round the point on the

way in.  There are rocks and reefs and crab pot

hazards everywhere.  We tip-toed into the anchorage

trying not to get snagged.  Mark kept his eyes glued to

the water through the binoculars, picking out a course

for us between the crab pots, while I followed the

chartplotter's contours along the 30 foot depth line

around the rock strewn reef.  It made for a white

knuckle entrance as the sun was nearly setting.  We

got in without a hitch, however.  We planned to stay two nights there and rest up, but this was the first anchorage we'd stayed

at where the boat rolled continually, so our sleep was fitful and we didn't need a second night of that.

So we decided to sail with the other two boats on to Bahía Santa Maria the

next day, a 130 mile overnight run.  Again, the sun shone brightly and the

wind was a sheer delight, coming perfectly over the beam on our best point of

sail.  Grinning at each other and feeling very smug for having made it this far

on our ocean going adventure without sinking or dying, our jaws dropped as

we watched a little finch suddenly fly into the cockpit.  We were 20 miles from

shore.  After checking out a few spots in the cockpit he flew down into the

cabin, landing on the sofa, the TV, the bookcase, and the ledge by the

windows.  I tried to coax him to stay, putting out a little bit of bread and water,

as I figured he must be tired and hungry.  But after a few minutes of

assessing our boat and us, he decided he'd seen enough and he flew off.

That evening the

sun set in a spray of

fiery orange, as our companions on Wendaway sailed next to us.  We

sailed side by side all night long, just a mile or two apart, again

comforted by the presence of another boat's light and blip on the

radar as we left the shore 50 dark cold miles to port.

We were awed by the half moon that rose in the early evening sky,

shining a bright path towards us along the water.  It set as a bright

orange candy slice around midnight, its watery path changing from

silvery white to warm orange.  The half moon laid on its back, and as

it sank into the horizon it looked like a little orange boat out at sea.

The next morning brought more celestial fireworks.  The

looming black rock hills that form one of the protecting

peninsulas of Bahía Santa Maria rose alongside us as we

motored towards the entrance to the bay.

A lone building on a bluff welcomed us in, and a tranquil

anchorage awaited us on the other side.  A peaceful day

or two here would set us up the remaining miles of our

passage down the Baja Pacific Coast.

Find these Pacific Baja anchorages on Mexico Maps.