Breaching whale on the malecón.
La Paz cathedral.
Hilly streets of La Paz neighborhoods.
Carrying meat to the market.
The Mexican Navy checks us out.
It was an easy boarding.
Mark opens up the hot water heater on the dock.
The offending stainless steel tube that needed
a bead welded around the sleeve joint.
Super Burrito, home of great carne asada tacos.
Real coke and yummy tacos for two, all for $8.
Wind travels in the direction of the arrows.
Green=14 mph.Yellow=18mph. Red=24mph
Wind travels from the hook of the hockey stick.
White is light wind and dark blue is heavy wind.
The La Paz Waltz causes anchored boats to collide.
Boston, Massachusetts tides.
La Paz, Mexico tides.
The new Comercial Mexicana Mega supermarket.
Mega is big enough to
require an escalator.
Mega claims to be cheaper than Walmart.
Plenty of fresh produce.
A channel buoy was blown ashore in
Playa Bonanza: tents for kayaking
guests on the beach.
Kayakers get ready to leave.
Off they go.
Sunset at Playa Bonanza.
A ferry heads into Bahía Pichilingue next to Bahía Falsa.
Bahía Falsa has a small beach bar in the sand.
Come finish this developer's dream!
A pelican pretends he's a heron in
Beach bar at Bahía Falsa.
A fun spot to get a beer, barefoot.
Richard, Volker and Petra on a
transcontinental cycling tour of the
Pedaling off to the ferry.
La Paz, Playa Bonanza and Bahía Falsa, Mexico
Mid November, 2011 - This is the time of year in the Sea of Cortez when the winter
weather patterns begin to dominate, and a Norther was predicted to blast us with a
few days of brisk north winds. That was enough to send us out of the exposed
island anchorages outside La Paz and into the safe refuge of the bay of La Paz for
a while. We walked the now-familiar malecón while the wind whipped up the seas out
at the islands, as unconcerned about the sea state as any breaching whale might be.
After a month in the small remote
anchorages of the Sea of Cortez, it was great
to walk the urban streets of La Paz and
gather all those provisions that only a city can
offer. Our daily walks took us all over town,
past historic churches and up and down the
steep hilly neighborhood streets. Many of the
streets were now filled with memories from
our visit last spring, and we knew exactly
where to go to find our favorite bakery, the
bank, the marine chandlery and the
supermarket. It felt good to know our way
On our way into La Paz
we were boarded by
the Mexican Navy for
the first time this
season, our fourth time in two years. Now it is a familiar and
easy affair. This boarding was conducted while we were
underway, and we didn't even need to stop motoring. One
man nimbly came aboard Groovy to review our paperwork and
fill out his forms while his crewmates putted alongside our boat
in their panga. Once he was done he climbed back into their
boat and they were off. Fast and easy.
Not quite so easy was the leak we had developed in the hot water
heater. Marine hot water heaters use the heat of the engine to
heat the boat's fresh water by sending the hot antifreeze from the
engine through a hose to the hot water
heater where it envelops the tank and
heats up the water. The steel pipe supporting the connection between
our antifreeze hose and our hot water tank had developed a leak and
needed to be welded. Mark took the hot water heater to the dock in the
dinghy and handed it off to the highly recommended La Paz stainless
steel expert, Sergio Galindo.
He repaired the leak, but
in the end, we paid more
for him to weld the joint
than it would have cost
to buy a brand new hot
water heater and have it
shipped from the US to
Without a doubt, Mexico's finest marine stainless steel fabricator is the creator
of our solar panel arch, Alejandro Ulloa, in Ensenada. His exquisite and artistic
craftsmanship is not only clever and functional, it was very affordable and
enhances the look of our boat. He was a pleasure to work with and his
polished welds are a thing of beauty.
We put the frustrating water heater repair behind us, and enjoyed
being return visitors to La Paz, seeking out our favorite haunts.
The colorful restaurant Super Burrito has terrific beef tacos, and
we had a feast topped off with "original" Coke in old style glass
bottles and formulated with sugar rather than high fructose corn
We kept an eye on the developing Norther on the two weather
websites we use in the Sea of Cortez: www.sailflow.com and
www.passageweather.com. Northers appear in the Sea when high
pressure builds in the "four corners" area in the US (the juncture of
Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico) and low pressure builds in
southern Mexico. This causes the wind to get sucked down the Sea
in a wild blast.
We were anchored in the well protected large bay in front of town. It is a long,
skinny, shallow bay and the tides sweep in and out creating very strong currents first
in one direction and then in the other. In light winds all the anchored boats face one
way for a few hours and then the other way in an orderly fashion as the tides turn.
However, when the wind pipes up during a Norther, some boats respond to the
current while others
respond to the wind.
This results in the La
Paz Waltz where each
boat does its own
dance steps to the
tune of either the
current or the wind,
its hull design and the
state of the tide. They
all end up facing in
Sometimes boats actually sail into each other, usually in rather slow motion.
We watched our neighbors fend off an unattended boat that kept pursuing
theirs like a hunter chasing its prey.
The tides in Mexico -- and all of the west coast -- are very
different than the tides I grew up with in New England. On
most of the east coast the tides march along in a steady
procession, going all the way from one extreme to the other
every six hours. Here the tides do a little blip at the mid-tide
between the extreme high and extreme low, producing a
kind of false high and false low tide on the way in and out.
This is confusing, as a high tide may or may not actually be
"high." Also, the maximum range of the tides in La Paz is
just over 5 feet whereas in Boston it is almost 15 feet.
Although we were getting a kick out of
already knowing many of the hot spots in
town, La Paz had one amazing new
addition that had arrived since we were
last here six months ago. The
supermarket chain Comercial Mexicana
had the grand opening of their Mega store
the week we were there.
We grabbed a grocery cart on the ground
floor and rode the escalator with it up to
the main shopping floor. Two stories and
an escalator -- that's a pretty big store!
Strutting their stuff against nearby
Walmart, they displayed two identical
shopping carts to prove Mega is about 10%
Inside the store the produce section was very
large, and the special Gringo area featured Costco's Kirkland brand products
in their signature oversized containers. Peanut-butter pretzels -- yay!
When the weather settled down we went back
out to the pretty anchorages that lie within a two
hour sail from town. Getting to the open ocean
from La Paz requires going down a long narrow
channel. It is several miles long, dredged to a
good depth and marked with large buoys. As
we were leaving Mark carefully noted each pair of buoys when we
passed between them and searched for the next pair up ahead.
Accidentally slipping outside the channel here would put us hard
aground. Suddenly he said, "I can't find the next green buoy!" We
looked and looked and it just wasn't there. Then we spotted it -- on the
beach. The powerful swell from the Norther had uprooted this huge
buoy and tossed it on shore.
Playa Bonanza is a long white beach
that is deserted except for a small eco-
tourism camp at one end. Five canvas
tents for guests are tucked into this
corner and two tents are reserved for
the guides and for cooking. When we
arrived a colorful collection of kayaks
and kayakers was lined up at the edge
of the water. Within a few minutes
they all took off and disappeared
around the point, and we had the
beach to ourselves.
Later that evening the guides returned
without the kayakers and relaxed on
the beach with a small fire and some
fresh caught fish. The next day they
vanished for a while to return with
another group of kayakers and the
pattern repeated itself. That's not a
bad gig: hosting vacationing kayakers
for a few hours each day and kicking
back on the beach in between.
Another day we sailed
over to Bahía Falsa, a
large bay with several
mangroves and a beach
bar under some thatched
shade ramadas. A pile of
kayaks lay to one side
waiting to be rented.
Bahía Falsa lies next to Bahía Pichilingue which is the big commercial
harbor and ferry dock outside of town. Ferry boats cross between
Mazatlan on the mainland and La Paz every day, and we watched lots
of ferries and other large ships going in and out of the harbor.
Around the corner we found an unfinished and abandoned building with
a steeply pitched round roof over an arch-encircled room or patio. It is
on its own private beach, just begging for someone to finish the dream.
At the far back of the cove there is a
cluster of mangroves, and sure enough
lots of mangrove types of leggy birds
live there. We snuck up on a few in the
kayak and caught them on camera, but
most of the pictures were a flurry of
flapping wings and blurred legs and
feet as the birds flew off.
One afternoon while relaxing at the beach bar we noticed three German
cyclists enjoying themselves a few tables down. Their heavily ladened
touring bicycles were leaning on a fence nearby. We went over to talk to
them and discovered they are on an epic cycling adventure.
"Where are you coming from?" I asked. "Anchorage,
Alaska." My eyes got wide. "And where are you going?"
"Argentina." My jaw dropped. It turned out these guys
had left Anchorage in the spring of 2011 and planned to
get to Argentina in the winter of 2013. Volker and Petra
had started their adventure together. They met Richard
on the road and he decided to merge his cycling
adventure with theirs as far as Puerto Escondido
south of Acapulco.
The trio were on their way to the ferry dock to catch
the overnight ferry to Mazatlan. They climbed onto
their bikes and we watched them ride up the long
grind towards Bahía Pichilingue.
A while later, while pedaling our kayak towards
Groovy, we saw their small forms high on the ridge,
pedaling towards their South American dreams. Soon
we would be continuing our travel dreams across the
Sea of Cortez in Paradise Village.
Find Playa Bonanza, Bahía Falsa and La Paz on
Read about our experiences in the La Paz area in
April, 2011 here.
Salt mine ruins at Bahía Salinas.
Isla Coyote framed by the mountains of Isla San Jose in the distance.
Statue on Isla Coyote.
resident of Isla Coyote.
The "Whale Museum" on Isla Coyote.
Every house has a view.
Looking down from Isla Coyote.
Groovy waits patiently.
View from Isla Coyote.
The community chapel.
Solar panels provide electricity to each building.
Isla San Francisco beach.
Baja mountains as seen from Isla San Francisco.
A yellow-rumped warbler visits
us on Groovy.
Mark buries our feathered friend.
Charter boat - life of luxury.
A cocktail party on the beach.
Mark dives for Euros.
20 Euro note.
20 Peso note.
The dramatic cliffs of Islas Espiritu Santos.
Puerto Balandra - turquoise beauty amid towering mountains.
Sunset in Puerto Balandra
Isla Coyote, Isla San Francisco & Puerto Balandra
Early November, 2011 - Continuing south from the Loreto area, we enjoyed some
downwind sailing and stopped for a brief overnight at Bahía Salinas at the base of
Isla San Jose. This is a small bay that used to be home to a salt mine. The ruins
of the buildings and even some old vehicles are scattered just up from the beach.
The Sea of Cortez has many abandoned structures, from buildings once used in
small industries like salt mining and fishing to tourist hotels and housing
developments that never got off the ground.
There is one unique, tiny island, however,
that is covered with dollhouse-sized buildings
that are still lovingly maintained. Just a tenth
of a mile or so across, it is clear even from
out in the anchorage that every possible
square inch of Isla Coyote sports a small
building or patio.
Sculptures, sea shell
scattered about the
As we motored ashore
towards the two-
we were met by a man
who introduced himself
as Manuel. He
graciously tied up our dink and invited us to
walk around the island and explore.
He told us that he had lived on the island for
fifty years and had raised his kids here.
A few steps from the beach he showed us
the "Whale Museum," a collection of whale
bones with a little sign listing the kinds of
whales: sperm, finback, pilot.
Only the sheer cliffs on the east side of Isla
Coyote are bare. The rest of the island is
packed with the homey signs of a simple life
Isla Coyote is tall enough that
each one- or two-room building has a
wonderful and unobstructed view.
A little trail snakes up the hill
between the buildings. It is a
three minute walk from the
beach to the bluff at the peak.
There is a whimsy and
charm here that speaks of
a happy group of families
that made a life here on
this miniature island for
many years. At one time
this tiny island was home
to 30 people.
Manuel told us his wife was
currently living in La Paz while
his son attends university
there. He stays out here on
the island to keep an eye on
things. "It's just me and my
dog Luna here," he said to me
in Spanish, although he did
have a friend Roberto staying
with him when we visited. His
only other company is occasional cruisers that drop by and daytripping
tourists that take a four mile boat ride out from the tiny seaside village of
San Evaristo on the Baja mainland.
He keeps in touch with the
world via VHF radio and cell
phone, but he doesn't have
Each building has a solar
panel on a stick outside,
and down on the beach
there was a collection of
large drums that held the
fresh water he had just
received from San Evaristo.
San Evaristo is also the source of most of his provisions.
A tiny chapel has a commanding view of the bay, and another building is covered
with a pretty mural depicting the undersea world.
Around the corner from Isla Coyote is a favorite cruiser
destination, Isla San Francisco. We had loved this
classic anchorage last spring and thoroughly enjoyed
visiting it again this fall. The water was amazingly
clear, and when I went snorkeling I saw several large
brown eels cruising around under the anchored boats.
They had mouths like moray eels and they swam with
them wide open. I kept my distance! A beautiful
mobula ray also flew past me slowly under water.
The mountains in the distance cast dramatic shadows in the morning light,
and we sat in the cockpit in the mornings and evenings, mesmerized by
Up on deck one afternoon I heard a faint
chirping and watched a tiny bird land in
our cockpit. We were in the midst of
moving Groovy from one end of the
anchorage to the other, and when I
started the engine the bird vanished.
Once we dropped the hook again he
suddenly reappeared in the cabin. He
had taken the cross-harbor ride with us down below. He seemed
unsteady on his feet and kept closing his eyes and nodding off as he
perched on our table in the cabin. I offered him a dish of water and
some bread but he kept his eyes closed while I looked him up in our
bird book. He turned out to be a female yellow-rumped warbler, a
migrating bird that spends summers between northern California and
British Columbia and winters in Mexico. This tiny fluff of a bird had
just flown 1,200 miles or more. No wonder she was tired.
We went about our business that evening, but our little bird friend got weaker and weaker. Finally she
stretched out on her side and closed her eyes for the last time. We were both very sad. We had
hoped a good night's sleep on Groovy would revive her spirits. Mark made a little coffin from a yogurt
container and the next day we went ashore and buried her on a ridge with a beautiful view.
Ensenada Grande (on Isla Partida, the northern island of Las
Islas Espiritu Santos) had been another favorite stop on our
way north last spring, and we dropped in for a few nights on
our current trek south. We had been seeing more and more
charter boats in the last few anchorages, and at Ensenada
Grande we parked right next to a beautiful big power boat in
the middle of the turquoise bay. We watched the crew get out
the snorkeling gear and launch the kayaks and mix the drinks
and break up the bags of ice and all kinds of other things
while the guests kicked back on a high deck with a view.
A crew member dinghied
ashore and set up some
beach umbrellas and beach
chairs. Soon the guests were enjoying a shaded cocktail
party on the beach. What a life.
That evening we saw the same beautiful sunset from our
cockpit as they did, but we'd had to launch our own kayak
and dig out our own snorkeling gear earlier in the day.
Mark and I snorkeled along the rocks, admiring the many
brightly colored fish. They come with all kinds of trim, from
stripes to polka dots to loud, flamboyant patterns. All of a
sudden Mark pointed at the sand and I saw the corner of a
blue 20 peso note waving slowly from under a rock.
"Cool!!" I thought, "That's enough for a beer at a beach
bar!" (20 pesos is about $1.50). We grinned goofy grins at
each other through our masks. Mark reached for the
money and then pointed excitedly at the corner. It was a
20 Euro note!! Wow. Make that beers and dinner for two!!
(20 Euros is about $27). Cruising is paying off.
A swell came in overnight, making the boat prance in the waves and keeping us up all night. In the forward berth
you were tossed in the air as the boat jumped and fell in the waves. In the aft berth you were in a perfect
soundboard that magnified the crashing thunder of the stern pounding the water.
In total frustration we
got up at 3 a.m. and
watched the movie
Terminator with the
volume turned way up.
It is an interesting
experience to get
absorbed in a movie
like that while your
theater seat and movie
screen are flying all
over the place.
The weather was
getting iffy, and we didn't want to risk another sleepless night, so we continued south along
the spectacular cliffs of Islas Espiritu Santo.
We made one more stop at
lovely Puerto Balandra as we
continued towards La Paz. This
bay is the quintessential tropical
anchorage that lies at the heart
of most cruising dreams. The
water is an exquisite shade of
aquamarine, the white sand
beaches are truly white and
almost powdery, and the rocky
mountains undulate around the
bay in a snug embrace.
More charter boats showed up to enjoy an
afternoon of perfection in paradise, and we sat in
the middle of it all with binoculars, cameras, drinks
and snacks in arm's reach. This was our delicious
prize, our reward after a sleepless night. The thing
about these moments of bliss in nirvana is that you
can earn them from the workaday world and jet
down to the tropics where a crew or resort staff
caters to your every need. Or you can slog it out
on a small rolling boat, at the mercy of the weather,
snorkeling for Euros, and repairing the many things
that break on board. Either way the price is paid
and the handsome reward of a few precious
moments in paradise becomes emblazoned in your
Those moments are brief, however, and an impending Norther sent us into safety and the urban thrills of La Paz.
Read about our experiences in Isla San Francisco, Ensenada Grande
Find Isla San Francisco, San Evaristo, Ensenada Grande, and Puerto Balandra on Mexico Maps.
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!
Punta Chivato's elegant hotel.
Shells on Punta Chivato's "Shell Beach."
We're not alone -- Mark
Stairs leading up to Punta
Charming outdoor bar. Too bad it's closed!
Interestingly landscaped grounds at the hotel.
Playa Coyote in Bahía Concepción is like glass.
Heron on watch.
A perfect day for a lazy kayak ride.
Playa El Burro beachfront ex-pat homes.
Each home is a little different.
Some have a removable front wall to bring the
view all the way in.
Snoozing on the water is the only way to beat
Geary Ritchie's home is totally wired to help with
his weather forecasting.
Geary, the Sonrisa Net's Sea of Cortez
The lunch room for the staff at NOLS.
NOLS houses a complete commercial kitchen...
…extensive provisioning for the students...
…and a mini-REI right here on the beach.
The entire campus, like every building in this bay, is
run on solar power.
Kayaks ready to go to sea.
The centerboard yawls used by the sailing
portions of the classes.
We catch a NOLS class on the water and see
the yawl in action.
Punta Chivato & Bahía Concepción
Mid-October, 2011 - Once the effects of hurricanes Jova and Irwin
way down south had stopped churning up the waves and wind in our
neighborhood near the middle of the Sea of Cortez, we ventured
across from San Carlos on the mainland to Punta Chivato on the
Baja side. There wasn't enough wind to sail, and we had an easy
70+ mile crossing under power.
Punta Chivato is a small community of vacation villas fronting a long
shell-strewn beach. The point is dominated by a sprawling hotel. But
what really caught our attention as we approached was an apparent
shipwreck of an older sailboat resting on its side along the rocks.
Although this anchorage was very peaceful when we arrived, it could
obviously be quite nasty at times.
The temperatures were still hovering near 100 degrees
everyday, so the whole community was closed up tight.
The only sounds were the raucous cries of gulls and the
shrill whistles of a pair of osprey.
We wandered along the beach,
admiring the endless array of
Adding to our sense of remoteness,
Mark suddenly found Tom Hanks'
best friend, the basketball "Wilson" of
Castaway fame, sitting among the
rocks and shells.
We had heard that the hotel at Punta
Chivato was a perfect place to spend
some relaxing afternoon hours sipping
cool drinks while perched high above
the sea with a sweeping view
around the point.
Unfortunately the hotel and it's
charming outdoor bar were
closed until December. So we
wandered around the lovely
grounds and imagined how
much fun it would be if
the pretty, shaded
outdoor bar were filled
with happy vacationers
along with us.
From Punta Chivato it is an easy 25
mile or so daysail south to the broad
bays and anchorages of Bahía
Concepción. A long channel
separates this bay from the rough-
and-tumble Sea of Cortez, and the
water where we anchored at Playa
Coyote was like glass.
We could see schools of yellow and
black striped sergeant major reef
fish below the surface, while an
occasional giant angel fish would
glide by and look up at us in the kayak. The
herons, gulls and pelicans
watched the motion of the fish
with as much interest as we did.
A happy couple floated by us in
a tandem kayak, looking very
Then a large fish began leaping
out of the water, almost dancing
on its tail as it darted across the
surface. A gull flew in to try to
catch the fish in mid-air, but a
heron beat him to the punch and caught the stunned fish mid-leap. The heron quickly
dropped into the water, fish in beak. He wasn't nearly as graceful a swimmer as his web-
footed companions, but he managed to stay afloat. Just as he was angling the fish in his
beak to swallow it in one gulp, a pelican swooped by and snatched the fish right out of his
mouth. In a flash the pelican threw his head back and ate the fish. Yikes. The heron
was stunned, we were stunned, and the whole thing was over in an instant. The gull flew
off, scolding everyone as he rose above the water.
We took the kayak around the corner to next-door Playa El Burro. This intriguing ex-pat
community had perked my interest when we were here last June, because the beach is
densely packed with small thatch-roofed houses built right in the sand. Many are closed
up tight for the hot summer months, but a few were open and we could see the inhabitants
milling about inside.
Each house is unique. Many have a porch
out front or a removable front wall that opens
the interior of the house to the view of the
bay. They are cute, although very rustic, as
there is no electricity, town water or sewer
service. Everything runs on solar power and
water is brought in to each house by truck.
All of the homes are owned by ex-
pats, and it struck me as very odd
that such wonderful vacation living
would be the exclusive property of
foreigners rather than Mexicans.
The heat at this time of year is
pretty much unbearable, and
lots of people spend their
days submerged in the 80+
degree water. One fellow was
on his floating bed for several
At the end of the beach is the
distinctive home of Geary
Ritchie, an avid amateur
meteorologist who provides
sailors with Sea of Cortez
weather forecasts every
morning via SSB and VHF
radio. His home is covered
Geary was at home when
we stopped by, and he
graciously invited us to sit
on his front porch with him
for a while. What a spot!
He explained a little about
how all these tiny homes came to be sitting on the water's edge here. His
was the first home on the beach 15 years ago, and at the time the Mexican
government charged him $30/month for his bit of sand. He built a little
beach palapa home, and he has lived here ever since. Nowadays the rent
has gone up nearly eight-fold, but is still a phenomenal bargain for a
bungalow in paradise. And the beach has filled in with similar homes.
Folks like Geary provide an invaluable service to sailors worldwide, and
they achieve legendary status among cruisers for their dedicated volunteer
efforts. Geary has been told his radio voice is similar to his fellow
forecaster in South Africa. I was intrigued that he got his start by providing weather reports for a friend in the States who had
left his boat in the bay one summer.
Back at Playa Coyote around the corner we visited another
intriguing shoreside property. The National Outdoor Leadership
School ("NOLS"). They have a "ranch" on this beach, one of many
worldwide campuses that provide bases for student wilderness
excursions into our planet's wonderful outdoor classrooms.
We had met the assistant director David and his young family out on the
water. They were camping on the deck of one of the boats in the bay to
escape the excruciating overnight heat in their home on shore, and they
rowed past us on the mirrored morning water on their way "to work."
They invited us to visit the school, and what an eye-opener that was.
We arrived on the beach to find several staff members having
lunch under the huge mesquite tree that shades their strip of
sand. Becca, the director of trek provisioning, gave us a
delightful tour and explained the essence and nature of the
Something of a cross between Outward Bound, the Boy Scouts and an
elite college, the school offers classes ranging from a few weeks to a full
year, many of which accrue college credit at universities around the world.
Classes are conducted in the wild and include kayaking, hiking, rock
climbing, horseback riding and sailing between remote destinations.
Students learn skills ranging from biology to environmental studies to
backcountry survival to group leadership. Most classes are about 15
students with 3 or 4 instructors, and all camping is open air: no tents and just a few shade tarps.
Becca's job is to make sure everyone is well fed on the
expeditions. The kitchen and store-room she oversees are
enormous. The recipes use gallons instead of cups.
This particular campus in Baja California was established around
1990, and its ultra-smooth operation is thanks to the two Mexican
families who have become an integral part of the school. Initially
they provided the land and buildings for the "ranch," but now the
operation of the school and campus is a family enterprise.
This was the first place I had ever been in Mexico where every
Gringo was fluent in Spanish, and Spanish was the default
language for everyone. As Becca said, "The ladies here do all the
shopping and food preparation, and if I can't converse in Spanish I
can't do my job."
The tuition for classes here is similar to a private college, and the education is on the same level. Students are told what to
bring, but just in case they can't find a particular item, the school has a small store that looks like a mini-REI or Cabella's
camping store. What a surprise to see all this high-end Patagonia clothing for sale in the middle of a community made up of ex-
pat beach bungalows.
Just like everyone else on the beach, the school runs without city
water, city sewer or city electricity. The grid of Outback solar charge
controllers was very impressive. We have an Outback charge
controller in our fifth wheel, but just one, not six!
Along with a library filled with books on outdoor adventuring, the
school has a repair yard where the sailboats and kayaks can be
patched up between expeditions. The sailing component of the
classes uses small open centerboard yawls. Of course the students
sleep outdoors on the beach during the sailing portion of the class
rather than on the boats.
We picked up a beautiful 100-page glossy brochure for the school
while we were there and lusted over the stunning photographs of the
courses offered everywhere in the world from the Amazon to
Australia to Scandinavia to the Pacific Northwest. Each site has a
"ranch" campus like the one we had seen. What a fantastic
educational experience it must be, perfect for a "gap" year between
high school and college or before grad school.
Later, when we were daysailing at the mouth of Bahía Concepción, we
saw one of the classes on the water. Four yawls were tacking back and
forth near the entrance of Bahía Concepción, and we tacked back and
forth along with them. The next day when we left Concepción for La
Ramada Cove and the Loreto area, we saw the four yawls pulled up on
a remote beach. Two shade tarps and the four boats were all we could
see of their wilderness experience. Besides ourselves a sailing few
miles out on the water, there wasn't a sign of humanity anywhere to be
seen on the coast for another 25 miles.
Read more about Bahía Concepción during our previous
visit in June, 2011 here.
Find Punta Chivato, Bahía Concepción, Playa Coyote and
Playa El Burro on Mexico Maps.
Algodones Bay, San Carlos.
Palms line the beach at Bahía Algodones.
Beachside villas on Algodones Bay.
Groovy anchored between the palms.
San Carlos harbor anchorage.
San Carlos Harbor
Marina San Carlos.
Marina San Carlos.
Marina San Carlos.
Raccoons raided the pantry on a
Resort near the Soggy Peso Bar.
We are back in vacation land...
...back on the beach...
The "Palacio Municipal" in downtown Guaymas.
The cathedral in Guaymas.
The lighthouse outside the Fonatur/
Marina San Carlos.
San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico
Early October, 2011 - After saying goodbye to the bugling elk and
Route 66 memorabilia in Williams, Arizona, we hustled down
from the mountains to Phoenix where we put the trailer into
storage, gathered a few things together, and took the overnight
bus to San Carlos, Mexico. Groovy was waiting for us in her slip,
and she eagerly welcomed us back.
San Carlos has special meaning
for us, as it was not only the end-
point of our cruise last year, but
is the place where our cruising
ideas were initially hatched
during Thanksgiving of 2005.
A friend of ours has a
lovely home at Marina
Real in San Carlos, and
he had taken us out in
his open fishing boat
that fateful Thanksgiving
weekend. Feeling the
wind in my hair and
watching the sun
sparkle on the brilliant
blue sea, I was
enchanted and suddenly
blurted out, "Hey Mark,
we could do this -- we
could go cruising!"
As a lifelong lover of the woods and
the desert, his feet planted firmly
between pines and cactus, he looked
at me in wonder. "Cruising?!"
"Sure!" I said, "We could live on a sailboat and sail the seven seas and
fish for our dinner and swim in tropical anchorages…" It was all so
vivid in my mind. He wasn't sure what to think, but he was very excited
to catch a yellowfin tuna during that little Thanksgiving excursion.
As we motored along the rugged shore with the fish on ice in a cooler,
I spent the next several hours painting a colorful picture for him of us in
our swimsuits living on the sea and sailing from one exotic port to the
next. I realized I had made an impression on him when we returned to
the dock and he suddenly said, "Well, if I'm going to be fishing for my
dinner, I'd better see how this thing is filleted." He closely watched
every flash of our captain Carlos' fillet knife, studying the way he
expertly carved up the
fish. "Wow," I thought,
"Maybe we really could go cruising…"
A long long time had passed between
that little fishing trip and our cruise of
the Mexican coast on Groovy last
winter, but when we pulled into San
Carlos this past June we felt like we
had come full circle. We sailed by the
island where Mark had caught his
yellowfin tuna on our friend's fishing
boat, and we anchored just outside the
entrance to Marina Real where we had
seen a Beneteau anchored way back
This past summer had given us the chance to revisit our home in Phoenix and run
away in our trailer to the Utah red rocks for a few weeks. Now we were back in San
Carlos with a new cruising season ahead. For us San Carlos seemed to be a point
of intersection, the juncture of past dreams and present transitions.
A lot of the boats we had traveled with
last season were on the docks in San
Carlos, and the air was abuzz with their
various plans: Central America, Panama
Canal, South Pacific, Caribbean.
We didn't have any concrete plans beyond
sailing the Sea of Cortez for October and
November. We took the kayak out into the
harbor and enjoyed the early morning light,
slowly getting used to living a water-based life
One morning a couple told us they had had
returned to their boat after a night ashore to
find that otters had wreaked havoc aboard.
They had seen webbed footprints, but it
wasn't clear if otters were really the culprits.
After a little sleuthing, it turned out that a family of raccoons lived in
the bushes next to the marina docks, and they had taken advantage
of the boat's open hatches to get aboard and raid the pantry. Food of
all kinds was strewn throughout their cabin.
Mark was returning from the shower one night and saw the raccoons
up close. It was a little family of five, and they were very cute,
although one parent hissed in annoyance at having its photo taken.
San Carlos is a gringo
vacation town, and one
afternoon we joined some
friends to check out the
Soggy Peso Bar. This
breezy little beachside bar
sits on the edge of the white
sands of Algodones Bay,
and it has a fantastic view
looking back towards the
Marina Real enclave of
The beers were ice cold and
the beach scene was hot,
and in a flash we realized we
had left the US along with our
life in our trailer, Route 66
and Utah's red rocks far
behind. We were in our beachwear once again,
back in the land of sand and sun, back on the
The village of San Carlos is a small vacation
community that was built on a single rancher's
ranch land a few decades ago.
Ten miles down the road is the
much older city of Guaymas,
complete with a historic city center.
We took the bus there and strolled
around one afternoon. A
"Municipal Palace" building
dominates a huge, open plaza, and
the cathedral lends a touch of
charm to the otherwise gritty town.
A lighthouse marks the entrance to the
municipal marina, and there is a nice
"malecón" or waterfront boardwalk for
We had dashed down to
San Carlos in hopes of
resuming cruising while the
water was still warm at the
very beginning of October.
When we arrived it was reportedly 91
degrees. Fantastic!! We couldn't wait to
get going. But two hurricanes showed
up on the radar down south--Jova and
Irwin--and although we were far from
their path, the weather promised high
winds and choppy seas in our
neighborhood for a while.
So we waited in the marina and
watched the water temperature slip
down to 82 degrees over the course
of a week. Finally our window of
opportunity came, and we left the
marina for Bahía Algodones around
the corner where we got the boat
prepped for this season's first
crossing of the Sea of Cortez. Punta
would be our first stops on the Baja side.
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.
Mexico's Highway 1 slips past a golf course
at Nopolo, just south of Loreto.
A finch on our stern rail sings
us a welcome song.
The Tripuli RV park feels like it is set in Arizona.
Flowers bloom on a
A few homes have a spot for an RV too.
Headin' on down the road.
A lean, mean carbon fiber sailing machine.
Bridge to a broken dream.
A developer's hopes dashed.
Loreto's panga harbor.
A fishing panga on Loreto's shore.
This guy was fishing on the
beach every morning we
Loreto has many charming walking streets.
The Loreto town center.
There are lots of outdoor eateries
At a taco stand I meet a little
girl who shares my name.
Trees carved into an arch over one of Loreto's
Misión de Nuestra Señora de
An inviting hotel gate...
Chacho Damianee sings
Mark gets a haircut.
I get a cavity filled.
Loreto's Sunday farmer's market.
Vendors sell produce of all kinds.
Veggies are not hard to find in the Sea of Cortez.
Mark rebuilds a solenoid for a head.
Little tykes in sailor suits head out for a boat ride on Día de la Marina (Navy Day).
Puerto Escondido & Loreto, Mexico
May, 2011 - We left Ensenada Blanca reluctantly, but we were getting low on
provisions so it was time to hit a big town. Puerto Escondido ("Hidden Port") is
just a few miles up the coast, and it offers both a well protected outer harbor
and a fully enclosed inner (or "hidden") harbor. John Steinbeck and his crew
stayed in the outer harbor when he did his six week tour of the Sea of Cortez in
1940. Cruisers now affectionately call that
outer harbor area "The Waiting Room." We
traversed the shallow entrance to the inner
harbor and found a spot to anchor near the
After anchoring, we got a surprise welcome
serenade from a little finch who landed on our
rail and sang his heart out for us.
Puerto Escondido doesn't have
much besides a small
government run marina and a
little "Modelorama" convenience
store half a mile down the road. Modelo brews Corona and
Negra Modelo among many other beers, and their convenience
stores are great places to buy many things. However rival
Tecate can't be found there.
There is an RV park near the
Modelorama, and we wandered
through, hoping to meet some
RVers. Fifteen years ago a
devastating fire raged through the park
and most owners now have homes built
on their sites instead of RVs. Several
homes had outdoor kitchens and bars
which looked very inviting.
There is one parking area available for
transient RVers, and we watched with a
funny feeling of nostalgia as two big fifth
wheel rigs pulled out and headed up the
road. The boating life is fulfilling, but
lately we have been missing the
trailer, especially as summer
Back on the water, we got chatting with the captain of a 65 foot catamaran on a mooring
next to us. This stunning yacht, built entirely of carbon fiber with a Kevlar overlay on the
hulls, boasts a navigation station reminiscent of the Starship Enterprise. It had completed
its maiden voyage from California to Cabo San Lucas last year. That was to be the first
leg of a circumnavigation, but the thrill of crashing down the coast at 25 knots was a little
more than the owner had bargained for, and when he got off the boat he had just two
words for the captain: "sell it."
This is hardly the first boat that
we've come across where the
owner's plans changed once
the real cruising began. But at
just under $4 million, it is
definitely the most expensive.
Cruising is a challenging way to travel, much more so than any
other way we've tried. The difficulties are rarely discussed in the
magazines and books that drive the boating industry, as they prefer
to paint vivid pictures of an idealized life instead.
For most people a boat represents an aspect of a dream, and as one
boat broker once said to me, "I sell dreams." But for many, including
ourselves, the dream can be elusive. Defining exactly what the dream is
before setting out can often spell the difference between happiness and
unhappiness in the cruising life.
Resorts are dreams of another kind, and we had just spent several
dreamy days anchored in front of the spectacular Villa del Palmar resort
at Ensenada Blanca which is being constructed by a firm with immensely
deep pockets. Here in Puerto Escondido we discovered a different
developer's dream-turned-nightmare. Next to the dinghy dock there is
an intriguing canal that runs under a bridge. We jumped in the dink one
morning to see what was beyond the bridge. We found a maze of
canals that wander off in a spider web of possibilities, scooting under
several bridges and fanning out into a subdivision of lots and roads.
This was intended to be a cluster of lovely waterfront homes
and shops, all built along the edges of the canals. The first
group of buildings was partially constructed some years ago.
We could easily imagine colorful little shops in these buildings,
full of life and tourists. Instead they are half-built and
abandoned. Beyond the vacant buildings there are large two-
lane streets with big street lamps hanging over slowly
crumbling sidewalks. It could be such an awesome place if the
developer's dream had come true, but now it is disintegrating.
Cruisers use Puerto Escondido as a jumping off point to visit and
provision at Loreto some 15 miles north. Getting to Loreto is not
all that easy, however, as the bus service is infrequent and taxis
and rental cars are expensive. So we simply took the boat to
Loreto and anchored in front of the town. It is not a protected
anchorage, but at this season it was fine.
According to his Log of the Sea of Cortez, when Steinbeck
anchored in front of Loreto in the spring of 1940, his arrival was
a special occasion for the town because so few boats ever
stopped in. He and his crew entertained the port officials on
their boat for hours and gave them cigarettes and matches to
smooth the clearing in process.
When we dropped our anchor we
were one of four boats in front of
Loreto on that at particular afternoon,
and no one paid any attention to us
except our friends on the other boats.
After being in Mexico with a boat for
so long, we have had many
encounters with government and
Navy officials. We are used to the
crisp uniforms, unfailingly polite
demeanor and the automatic
weapons that can accompany
meeting them on our boat. We have also grown accustomed to the
long waits that can typify visits to their offices ashore.
So we laughed aloud at Steinbeck's description of the Mexican port
officials as "well dressed men...armed with the .45 caliber automatics
which everywhere in Mexico designate officials. And they were armed
also with the courtesy which is unique in official Mexico... One fine
thing about Mexican officials is that they greet a fishing boat with the
same serious ceremony they would afford the Queen Mary, and the
Queen Mary would have to wait just as long."
One of our missions in Loreto
was to renew our FM3 travel
visas. These visas allow tourists
to stay in Mexico for a year
rather than six months, and you
can renew the visa without
having to leave Mexico.
Obtaining an FM3 and renewing
it involves a delicate dance and
shuffle lead by the courteous,
uniformed officials at the
immigration office. You are
asked to do a lot of fancy
footwork, and once they are
satisfied you are granted a small
laminated ID card. One of the
more unusual parts of the
process this year was that we
were asked to buy manila
folders so our paperwork could be filed, and at the last
minute our cards were delayed by a day because the
laminating machine had run out of plastic.
The town of Loreto is utterly charming, and impressed us
immediately with its pretty layout, its casual walking
streets and its inviting town center.
It would be easy to laze away many days simply strolling
the streets and sipping morning coffees and afternoon
beers at the outdoor bistros. There is a friendliness and
relaxed air here that made us smile.
Starbucks hasn't quite
arrived, but a good
imitation has set up shop.
founded in 1697
Salvatierra, and is
birthplace of all the missions in both
Baja California and the state of
California. The mission church has a
quiet presence at one end of the town
center, having withstood many
hurricanes over the centuries.
Out on the waterfront a new resort, as
yet untested by hurricanes, sports an
ornate gate. We couldn't resist passing
through the gate, and inside we found
a large pool bar where we listened to
Chacho Damianee playing classic rock
n' roll favorites one afternoon.
We always enjoy getting haircuts in small towns, and at
the edge of Loreto we found a wonderful little shop where
two haircuts and some lively conversation in Spanish cost
us a grand total of 140 pesos, or about $12.
Dental work in Mexico is carried out with an efficiency and
simplicity to match a barber's, and we stopped at a
"dentista" for a quickie consultation. A pain-free filling by
the most gentle and sympathetic dentist's hands I've ever
experienced cost me 450 pesos, or about $40.
The last thing on our agenda for the "big city" of Loreto
was a trip to the Farmer's Market. Held every Sunday, this
is both a swap meet and a vegetable market.
Many of the veggies are imported
from the US, and the variety and
quality are excellent
This is a big weekly event for
everyone that lives in Loreto, both
Mexicans and gringos, because it
is the best place to stock up on
produce. The vendors start setting
up their stalls the night before, and
families come right at daybreak to get the best selection. Meats, goat
cheese, jewelry, clothing, electronics and DVDs can all be found along
with peppers and broccoli.
A toddler eating an apple caught Mark's eye and I snapped a photo of
him. His older brother noticed and wanted to be in the picture too.
But first he ran over to another stall to drag his other brother back with
him so all three could be in the picture. They laughed and pointed
when I showed them the photo in the back of the camera.
Before cruising the Sea of Cortez
we had heard that finding fresh
veggies would be very difficult.
Not so. Now I'm wondering what I
will ever do with all those cans of
veggies I stuffed into the bilge!
There are always little things that
need fixing or tweaking on a
boat, and Mark sat down one
afternoon to rebuild the solenoid
from one of the heads when the
head started running continually.
Little did he know as he smiled
for this photo that in a fit of
"repair me too!" jealousy the
other head would suddenly
refuse to flush two days later. He
wasn't smiling then!
One day we awoke to Mexico's "Día de la Marina" or "Navy Day" festivities. Last year we
were in Ensenada for this event and the Navy put on a huge show with tours of their ships,
a parade and lots of fanfare. Loreto is a much smaller town, and here the day was
celebrated by bringing all the school kids down to the docks for boat rides on the bay.
They were a happy, noisy bunch as they stood excitedly in their school uniforms on the
pier waiting for the boats to pick them up. And what a gleeful crew they were as they left
to go out into the bay.
That was our last morning in Loreto. We
had been in the area for three weeks,
and getting ready to leave felt like we
were starting a new chapter. After
waving off the kids in the pangas we
readied Groovy for our next destination:
Find Puerto Escondido and Loreto on
Roads Less Traveled
Villa del Palmar resort in Ensenada Blanca (Bahía Candeleros).
Isla Carmen's "Painted Cliffs."
Isla Carmen's Punta Perico.
The turquoise water reflects off
A turkey vulture looks for carion on the beach.
A seagull perches on a
Buses wait in a dirt lot to take the resort
Jose holds up a cabrilla for us.
Jose fillets the cabrilla in his panga.
View from a Villa del Palmar 7th floor balcony.
The resort pools are creatively laid out.
A golf course is going in behind the resort.
A spa and restaurant will grace one end of the resort.
The pool bar overlooks the bay.
Dining in the desert by an open fire -- reminiscent of
the finest resorts in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Groovy sits quietly at the resort's front door.
Isla Coronado & Ensenada Blanca, outside Loreto, Mexico
May, 2011 - At Agua Verde we really began to
relax. All of a sudden the exertion of seven
months of cruising the Mexican coast had
caught up with us, and there in that little oasis
of tranquility we unwound until we became
blobs of jello. We went to bed before sundown,
got up after sunrise, and stretched out for naps
in between. For 17 days the Sea of Cortez
gave us a life without the distraction of the
internet. The world beyond our immediate
surroundings on the sea seemed very far away.
As we sailed north and turned the corner to pass inside Isla Danzante
our eyes popped out of our heads when a massive resort suddenly
rose out of the mountains, overshadowing a cove and filling our view.
"Holy mackerel, what is that?" Civilization. Land of plush vacations.
We could almost hear the air conditioners throbbing, the fresh water
pumping, the workers scurrying. We could almost see the elegant
meals being served by uniformed waiters on linen tablecloths while
patrons gazed at the expansive view of the Sea and its desert
islands. Our guidebooks called the bay "Bahía Candeleros," and
mentioned only that a resort was under construction there. Well, it's
open for business now!
We weren't ready for all that quite yet. We pressed on, weaving between
the islands and taking a detour around the eastern side of Isla Carmen.
Here the colorful towering cliffs and crying gulls took over once again. We
stopped at Punta Colorada, and again at a place the guidebook called
"Painted Cliffs" and finally at Punta Perico. Besides one other sailboat and
the hum of cruisers talking on the radio, humanity disappeared once again.
A few days later we arrived at Isla
Coronado, an ideal little aquamarine
cove where the water is such a bright
turquoise that it reflects off the gulls'
wings as they fly overhead. We relaxed
into jello once again. Between swims
and kayak rides I began reading John
Steinbeck's Log of the Sea of Cortez while Mark played guitar.
Visiting the Sea in 1940 on a personal quest to study life in the
coastal tidepools, Steinbeck gives hilarious descriptions of life afloat
on a chartered California sardine boat. Packed in with six other
guys, he took a six week voyage from California to Cabo, and then
along the inner coastline of the Sea of Cortez and back. Endless
jars of pickled specimens that the crew collected from tidepools
filled every available space on the boat: crabs, worms, sea
cucumbers, and much more.
I laughed out loud at his wry tales. They
were all the more poignant because
certain aspects of traveling the Mexican
coast by boat have not changed since
Steinbeck's time. His skiff's cranky outboard engine, which he derisively nicknamed the "Sea-Cow,"
quickly became an eighth grumpy personality in the mix, running only when it wasn't needed and
leaving the men to row their dinghy in the most challenging conditions. The crew bickered about
whose turn it was to wash dishes, harassing each other with practical jokes. And they got caught by
surprise in the La Paz Coromuel winds which "sprang upon us" and "seemed to grow out of the
evening." By the end of the trip they were all thickly encrusted in salt, as they had long since given up
using fresh water to wash their bodies or their clothes. In fact, from the start they found the quality of
the fresh water they were able to get for their tanks so dubious for drinking that they endeavored to
consume as little water as possible and live on beer instead.
As I read Steinbeck's Log I found myself pondering the many changes, both
subtle and dramatic, that have taken place in the last 71 years in this remote
part of the world. Cabo San Lucas, a raucous, pricey, resort-filled party
town today was, in Steinbeck's time, "a sad little town" whose road in from the
bay was "two wheel-ruts in the dust." At La Paz he bemoaned a new
"expensive looking" hotel going up, as it spelled the end of the town's unique
character and isolation. "Probably the airplanes will bring weekenders from
Los Angeles before long, and the beautiful bedraggled old town will bloom
with a Floridian ugliness."
In several different parts of the Sea he described seeing schools of leaping
swordfish. Swarming the boat in thick schools, they "jumped clear out of the
water" and "seemed to play in pure joy." In other places the schools were
tuna, and they too leaped around the boat with total abandon. The tuna
would shimmer silver in the sun as they rocketed out of the blue depths and wriggled in the air. On the Pacific side of Baja
between Magdalena Bay and Cabo San Lucas, he wrote: "We came upon hosts of...red rock-lobsters on the surface,
brilliant red and beautiful against the ultramarine of the water...The water seemed almost solid with the little red crustacea."
We haven't seen any of those things, and we haven't heard of anyone else seeing them either. However, the leaping manta
rays Steinbeck describes are still here, doing somersaults and slapping the water in loud belly smacks. We had first seen
them 500 miles south in Las Hadas in Manzanillo. They cruised Isla Coronado's cove in huge schools, fooling us when we
first arrived into thinking we had accidentally anchored next to a rock. Jumping in with masks and snorkels, we searched
everywhere for that rock only to realize it had been a school of rays floating past.
Steinbeck vividly describes
the Japanese shrimping factory ships that filled the Sea in 1940.
He and his crew spent time on one of these ships and watched in horror as the massive nets scraped
the bottom clean of all sea life. Fish from every level of the sea came up in the nets: sharks, turtles,
pompano, sea horses, sea fans and more. All were discarded overboard in a sea of death, except the
shrimp which were processed and packaged to be taken home to Japan. He bitterly lamented the
waste of a massive food source that could feed the Mexican people indefinitely. At the same time he
conceded that none of the dead fish were wasted, as the birds scooped up every morsel that had been
thrown over the side.
A Spanish speaking cruiser told us he had talked at length with some lobstermen on the Pacific side
of Baja as he sailed south from San Diego last January. He learned that these men work in
cooperatives for Japanese ships that wait in Ensenada and sail once the holds are filled. The
lobstermen have a quotas that the cooperative must meet -- some 20,000 tons of lobster
per month was a number he was given -- and all the lobstermen are paid equally if the
quota is met.
While Steinbeck and his crew got progressively grubbier, drinking warm beer and eating
spaghetti twice a week, they felt a stab of jealousy when a sleek black yacht sailed by. The
passengers, dressed in white, relaxed in chairs on the shaded back deck sipping tall cool
drinks. Today we see the enormous power megayachts and can only wonder what that life
is like. The upper crust passengers are usually hidden behind large tinted windows, and
the sliding glass doors are usually closed to keep the air conditioning in.
Eventually our curiosity about the resort we had sailed by earlier overtook us and we
doubled back. "Bahia Candeleros" seems to be the name that was assigned to this bay by
the earliest cruisers and nautical charts. But we soon learned that everyone in the nearby
village -- and even Google Earth -- refers to this bay as "Ensenada Blanca."
Whatever the name, it is a fascinating convergence of the old Sea and the new. At one end
of the cove stands a small fish camp where drying clothes hang out on clotheslines and
cisterns hold water on the roofs of rickety shacks that look like they would collapse in a
storm. A tiny village half a mile inland has a small church and store, reminiscent of Agua
Verde a few miles south. Pangas on the beach bring in small boatloads of fish.
A friendly fellow at this end of the beach named Jose sold us a
"cabrilla" (bass) that had been caught and laid on ice that morning. He
filleted it expertly on the seat of his panga and rinsed the flesh in the
seawater at his feet. The gulls and pelicans gathered in a noisy crowd
nearby and fought each other over scraps.
Jose explained to us
that the well built
fiberglass pangas we
have seen on every
part of the Mexican
coast are built in
Mexico using molds
made in the US. These
rugged boats have replaced the common
fishing boats that Steinbeck described as "double-ended canoes carved out of a single log of
light wood, braced inside with struts...seaworthy and fast." Today's pangas are driven by
powerful outboards whereas the canoes were "paddled by two men, one at either end."
The eldest Baja citizens, whom Steinbeck called "Indians," would have been small children
when he was here. He wrote: "When we think of La Paz it is always of the small boys that we
think first." They swarmed his boat, curious and eager to help him collect sea creatures when
he offered a few centavos per specimen. Those boys would be old men now, and they may
still be telling tales to their grandkids of gathering clams and worms and crabs for some crazy
gringos in exchange for a few centavos each. Not even a full lifetime has passed.
Wandering down to the other
end of the cove it seems like
centuries must have gone by.
The gargantuan resort is called
Villa del Palmar, and the guards
were happy to arrange a tour for
us. What a place. Only the
finest materials have been used,
the highest end appliances fill
each suite, and the layout of the pools and gardens, as viewed
from a seventh floor balcony, is an artful pattern in the shape of
a sea turtle. It is Scottsdale, Arizona on the Sea.
We learned that this resort is just the first of three similar hotels
planned for this small bay. "Villa de la Estancia" and "Villa del Arco"
will follow. A golf course will line the base of the mountains and
condos will be built in all of the nooks and crannies in between.
We looked out over the construction in awe. Backhoes clawed
the dirt while cement trucks flowed to and fro. Uniformed men
with clipboards checked the progress while workers nodded
confidently at them, wiping their sweaty brows with dusty
hands. The air was filled with purpose and excitement.
Our tour guide, Gabriel, lives in Loreto and he couldn't stop
smiling throughout the entire tour. He is thrilled to have this
job, working in a beautiful place in handsome clothes and with
what he believes is a fine future ahead. He told us the resort
employs 250 people. About 50 guests were there during its
second month of operation. We had seen the buses that the
company uses to bring the employees in from town. The road
to the resort is not yet paved and the buses park behind the
fish camp in a large dirt lot.
In the afternoon Mauricio, the music electronics whiz who sets up
the karaoke machines at the pool bar, told us he transferred in
from Mexico city. He is being housed in one of the beautiful
condos set back in the hillsides while he looks for a home so he
can transfer his family from the mainland. He likes the school
system in Loreto and is pleased there is a university there. His
wife, a bank manager, may find work at the hotel too, and he hopes
his kids will be able to continue the after-school activities they now
enjoy in Mexico City: horseback riding, swimming and soccer.
The entire resort pulsed with the feelings of opportunity, promise
and the future. This is the new Sea of Cortez that Steinbeck
knew was coming, tamed and gentrified for well-heeled tourists.
Along with the classy resort came an internet signal, and what a
surprise it was after so long adrift from world news to find out that
Osama bin Laden had been captured and killed. This mirrored
Steinbeck's experience too. He discovered that while he was in
the Sea, "Hitler marched into Denmark and into Norway, France
had fallen, the Maginot line was lost -- we didn't know it but we
knew the daily catch of every boat within 400 miles."
We stayed for several days, enjoying
placid, clear water and lovely views as
Groovy slowly swung at anchor. Finally a
need for provisions pushed us into the
busy ports of Puerto Escondido and
Find Isla Coronado, Ensenada Blance and Loreto on Mexico Maps
San Evaristo: a family visits to sell us
"Gosta" said the toddler, eliciting proud smiles.
Puerto los Gatos is rimmed with smoothly rounded
red rocks. Utah on the ocean.
Sedona meets the Sea.
Vibrantly striated cliffs along the Sierra de La Giganta mountains lining the Sea of Cortez.
Punta Gavilán ("Oarlock Point").
Sea cave at Ensenada de la Ballena.
Inside the sea cave was a
Brilliantly colored crab.
Cactus grows among the rocks on the beach at
Ensenada de la Ballena (Bahía Berrendo).
A whale's pelvic bone sits on the beach at aptly
named Ensenada de la Ballena ("Whale Cove").
Those guys are big!!
Groovy braces for the norther at
Bahía Santa Marta.
The results of a
Two days later Agua Verde
is the mirror of tranquility.
"Roca Solitaria" evokes the Grand Canyon's "Point Imperial."
The red rock cliffs tower above
the sailboats at anchor.
A sailboat disappears against Baja California's
Cactus and pretty water
at Agua Verde.
Agua Verde's picturesque bay.
Agua Verde village church.
Goats wander freely.
Everyone rests in the shade
Mini Market Miguelito with a solar panel out front.
No fancy gourmet goods, but the basics are all here.
Outdoor refrigerators contain chilled vegetables.
Agua Verde is all about fishing.
Sea kayakers travel
this area frequently.
Agua Verde's old cemetery dates from the mid-1900's.
Where's the beef? Free-range cattle
make a meager living out here.
Groovy is boarded by La Armada de
México (the Mexican Navy) once again.
Path from town to the beach.
Agua Verde, Baja California Sur, Mexico
Late April-Early May, 2011 - We left Isla San Francisco to head north knowing that a "Norther" (several days of big north
winds and seas) was due to arrive in a few days. So in the back of our minds at each anchorage we visited we asked
ourselves "would this be okay in northerly blow?"
Our first stop was San Evaristo, a small pair of coves on either
side of a fishing camp that houses a few families. As the sun was
setting a panga loaded with people came out to visit our boat. It
turned out to be a family, including a baby.
"Negocios!! Quieren langostas?" (Let's do business! Do you want
lobster?). I explained that we don't really like lobster but we love fish.
To my astonishment, the young driver told me they had no fish on the boat but he would be back in an hour with some for us.
When they came back, as promised, it was dark. A young girl held up the toddler. "Escucha!" (Listen!") she said, and then
prompted the toddler to say "langosta," the word for lobster. "Gosta" the little girl said hesitantly. The mom beamed at me
with pride and everyone in the boat laughed. There's nothing so cute as a baby struggling to say its first words, even when
they don't quite say them right. If only my feeble efforts at Spanish were met with such delight!
We decided to move further north and stopped at Puerto Los Gatos.
This is a stunning cove, just big enough for a few boats, where
beautiful, smoothly rounded red rocks roll down to the water.
Before we had a chance to explore ashore, we were suddenly
chased out of the anchorage by a horde of thirsty bees. They
buzzed all over Groovy looking for fresh water. There are so many
fresh water sources fit for a bee on our boat (faucets, shower
heads, sinks and toilets) that it was easier for us to leave the cove
than to persuade the bees to leave the boat.
The Baja coast along this
stretch pierces the sky in
mountains, cliffs and rock
formations. In many places
the carved rock faces are
striated in a rainbow of
whites, reds and browns.
We stopped briefly at Ensenada de la Ballena, also known as Bahía Berrendo, a
small gravel beach tucked into the south side of a craggy point. High up on the cliffs
is a perfectly round hole giving the point its name "Oarlock Point" or "Punta Gavilán."
There is a small sea cave in this bay as well,
and we snuck inside and listened to the waves
echoing off the back walls.
Lots of little bright red legged crabs crawled
around the inside of the cave.
It still amazes me to see this junction of the
desert and the sea. A large stand of cactus
filled a valley behind the beach and ran up the sides of two mountains.
Here and there, tucked into the beach rocks, we found baby cactus
A little further on
we came across
a whale's pelvic
bone. It was very
some very long
There are three anchorages in this area
that offer north wind protection, and we
chose the prettiest one, Bahía Santa
Marta, to wait out the Norther. There was a beach with a
collection of palm trees at one end, and the red rocks
rising behind the beach were layered. In hindsight a
better choice would have been Bahía San Marcial (also
known as Bahía San Marte). But you don't necessarily
know these things ahead of time.
Once the wind started to blow it seemed like it would
never let up. We saw gusts over 30 mph, and later we
heard that a few miles north in Puerto Escondido where
"Loreto Fest" was taking place the gusts got into the 40's.
The last day of their activities had to be canceled as no
one wanted to leave their boat. Some boats broke off
their mooring lines and other boats dragged their anchors.
We had no such trouble, but the swell was merciless.
Groovy rocked and rolled and the two of us fell all over ourselves
and each other as we tried to move about the boat.
I snuck off in the porta-bote just to get a change of scenery during
each of the three days, but the conditions were downright scary in
the dink and I didn't go far. Our anchor chain got hung up under some
rocks and pinned the boat on a very short leash for a while. This made the
jerking motion even worse as the bow of the boat yanked at the chain like
a wild dog. At one point Mark came up into the cockpit asking if I'd seen
the kitchen knife. We use this knife many times every day, and it never
goes missing. "I left it on the counter..." I said. He found it stuck in the
floor like a javelin. The force of one of the boat's rolls had flung it off the
counter with such power it had landed point down and stuck in the floor
about a quarter inch. Thwang!!!
We were grateful when the norther finally blew itself out. Rounding the
point we finally made radio contact with the rest of the cruising fleet and
were relieved to hear human voices and stories once again. We
discovered this had been supposed to be a "mild late-season norther," and it caught everyone a
bit off guard. Everybody was amazed that a blow like this could hit with such ferocity as late as
When we arrived in idyllic Agua
Verde, where the water was
smooth and the wind just a
pleasant breeze, it occurred to
us that the Sea of Cortez has a
Jeckyll and Hyde soul. One
minute the Sea is a raging
terror, and the next minute it
is a tranquil paradise.
We took the dinghy out at
daybreak one morning and
slipped across mirrored water.
The rock pinnacle "Roca Solitaria"
stands sentinel at the mouth of
Agua Verde bay, and it stood out
in sharp relief against the striped
rock cliffs on the shore behind it. I
was reminded of "Point Imperial"
at the Grand Canyon's North
Rim. But the glassy water at the
foot of the cliffs planted this place
firmly in the Sea.
Agua Verde is very popular, offering
three unique and delightful spots to drop
the hook. The boats were dwarfed by
the rocky mountains rising behind them.
We took a hike up and over the hills that
rise behind the northern beach. The
views looking back down at the bay were
Wandering into the village one morning,
we walked the dusty streets. The
nearest town, Loreto, is 60 miles away,
25 miles of which is a mountainous a dirt
road. This little fishing village is isolated
Goats wander freely, their little bells tinkling as they walk. Spring
had been good to the goats, and almost all the goats we saw were
mothers with their babies.
Days are hot and still, and everyone takes shelter in any kind of shade
they can find. We passed a school and watched the children walking
home in their tidy little uniforms carrying their school papers and
We were in need of a few
supplies and had heard that
Maria's Tienda (Maria's Store)
had a few supplies. The only
thing that distinguished Maria's
Tienda from the surrounding
homes was a little bit of writing
outside the door on the front wall.
She had some staples, but not what we were looking for, so she sent us
on to the other village store, telling us to look for a red building. "Mini-
Market Miguelito" was much better marked and a group of moms was
hanging around inside chatting with each other. These village stores are
not supermarkets or even convenience stores, by any stretch of the
imagination, but the few shelves had a surprising variety of items.
When I asked about vegetables I was led outside to some
large top-loading refrigerators under the trees outside. I
peered in one and was astonished to find peppers, celery,
cucumbers and apples. What impressed me even more is
that these refrigerators -- as well as almost every building in
town -- were powered by a solar panel or two outside. A
simple wire ran from the panels to the charge controller, car battery and inverter.
Agua Verde lives and dies by fishing, and the dads went out in
their pangas twice a day six days a week to fish. Early in the
morning the men would suit up in bright orange foul weather
gear and cast off, waving goodbye to their wives on shore. In
the early afternoon they would return and a whole commercial
exchange would take place. Fish were unloaded from the boats
and carefully counted and loaded into coolers in pickup trucks.
One by one the trucks would take off, including one small
refrigerator truck. Another truck carrying gasoline tanks would
arrive and run a hose to fill the gas tanks on the fishing boats.
Then the beach would clear out for a few hours and return to the
possession of the gulls and pelicans. As the sun was setting the
whole process would repeat, with the wives and kids waving off
the fishermen as they left for the night's catch. Long after dark
we would hear the pangas return.
I was reminded of my great-grandfather who was a lobsterman on Massachusetts' north shore in the
early 1900's. He rowed his dory from lobster pot to lobster pot faithfully every day, hauling them by
hand. His village was small and tight-knit too, made up mostly of Scandinavian immigrants and
situated at the end of a long journey from Boston. Agua Verde lives in the early 21st century,
however, and the Honda outboards were big and powerful and the pickup trucks were late models
from Dodge and Chevy. One fisherman was putting in his iPod earbuds as he zipped past our boat,
and they all had VHF radios and antennas. The trade is the same, but it is a different era.
This part of the Sea is traveled by kayakers
as well as fishermen and cruisers, and we
met several who were kayaking and camping
en route to La Paz from Loreto.
One day we hiked over the hill past an old
cemetery. The tombstones were from the
1930's to the 1960's, and some still bore
adornments lovingly placed there by living family members.
The hiking trail
follows a wash
out to the
the free-ranging cattle were
Laid out on the ground in
one spot we saw the
skeleton of what we thought
was a horse, complete with
skull, vertebrae and leg
bones. All the bones were
bleached white in the sun, and a jawbone laid off to one
side showing a full row of molars.
One afternoon a Mexican Navy boat entered the bay
and anchored. All the cruisers kept an eye on the boat,
waiting for the inevitable moment when we
would all get a visit. To our surprise the Navy
boarded several fishing pangas as the
fishermen headed out for the evening's catch.
This business of being boarded by the Mexican
Navy is an equal opportunity affair. A few
lagging pangas snuck out of the bay on the far
side to avoid being detained, but another went
straight to his buddy who had been waylaid and
waited for him to finish with the Navy so they
could go out to fish together.
The cruisers' turns came the next
morning, and as before it was an
easy process. This time it was
more like a US Coast Guard
boarding: along with the usual paperwork they wanted to see that our flares were up
to date, our fire extinguishers hadn't expired and that we had life preservers for
everyone on board. We have now been boarded three times in two months (the
second was so trivial I didn't mention it on these pages). Seasoned cruisers say it
was never this way in the past. It's just a sign of the times.
Agua Verde was a classic Sea of Cortez stop. Clear turquoise water, calm nights and
a dusty but vibrant fishing village, all set against the soaring jagged peaks of Baja
California's Sierra de la Giganta mountain range. By the time we left our sprits were
completely restored after the wild ride we'd been given during the late season
Norther, and we were ready for more Baja adventures in the Loreto area.
Find San Evaristo, Puerto Los Gatos and Agua Verde on Mexico Maps.
Red rocks and cactus at
Ensenada Grande on Isla Partida
Cactus on the water's edge, at
Isla Partida's Enseanda Grande
This could be Sedona,
Unusual rock formations line the far edge of the bay.
These cliffs dwarf the huge
cactus rooted on them.
The calm, clear waters of
Ensenada Grande bring
charterboats of all sizes.
A campsite for dive charters on the beach at Enseanda Grande.
You can sleep in a tent or out under the stars.
These funny little buildings turned out to be
Not bad facilities for a beach camp
on a desert island.
Divers kick back here to contemplate all
they saw on their Sea of Cortez dives.
We wander up a wash and look back at the cove.
Cardón cactus, cousins of
Arizona's Saguaro cactus, grow
all over the canyon.
Bats pollinate these cactus at night.
As we hiked into the canyon
the heat and stillness erased
all thoughts of the ocean.
It is a bit of a stair-step hike.
Little whispy trees seem to thrive.
The hike ends at cliff's edge
overlooking the Sea.
Looking east from isla Partida.
On our way back the view of Ensenada Grande grows larger.
Beach living at its best.
Isla San Francisco just a few miles north of Isla Partida.
Vivid colors of Isla San Francisco
Isla San Francisco's popular "hook" anchorage.
The anchorage opposite the "hook."
Hiking trail on the ridge of Isla
Moorings bareboat charter boat.
Spectacular views reward hikers after a long scramble.
Isla San Francisco.
Ensenada Grande & Isla San Francisco, Mexico
Late April, 2011 - Our first stop north of La Paz was at
Ensenada Grande located on the west side of Isla Partida.
This is one of the few anchorages in the area that is well
protected from the nasty nighttime south/southwesterly
Coromuel winds, and we tucked right up into a tiny cove
where we were well sheltered by red rock hillsides.
Looking at the scenic bay around us, it seemed we were
at the meeting place of the desert's most spectacular
cactus-adorned red rocks and the jade green sea.
We jumped in the kayak to see everything up close, and
moseyed along the base of the red rock cliffs. Cactus
grew out of crevices in the rock, somehow eking out a
living from those few morsels of dirt that had gotten
wedged into the cracks.
The deeper water undulated turquoise green, while the
shallower water revealed all the details of the rocks and
fish under the surface.
On the far side of the bay the rock
formations were intriguing. Carved
out underneath by the wind and
waves, the rock cliffs were smooth
and rounded, as if shaped by a divine
hand working in wet clay. On top of
the bluff the desert's crispy crust
seemed almost to drip over the sides
towards the water. The tall cactus
seem small compared to the cliffs.
Leading up to the main beach the
water runs shallow for 100 yards or
more, rising and falling in a billowing
veil over the sand. This is a popular spot for day and
weekend charters from La Paz, and during our stay we saw
several extraordinarily appointed megayachts stopping in for
an afternoon or an overnight in the bay.
We pulled the kayak up onto the beach and were very
surprised to find a little encampment perched on the water's
edge. A Mexican fellow was singing Queen tunes as he raked
the word "Welcome" into the sand. His name was Hernando,
and he told us this little oasis was a "campsite" for visiting dive
charters. Three large, rugged tents were set up with cots and
bedding. True nature lovers could take their cots out onto the
beach and sleep under the stars.
Off to one side stood several homemade little shacks with
doors. Peaking inside one I discovered it was a neat little
outhouse, complete with a marine pump toilet, toilet paper
and a colorfully woven wall covering.
working in the
building, and he explained that
this place was used by dive
charter companies and was open
every day from April to
November. Down on the beach
there were plastic lounge chairs
and some fantastic varnished
wood chairs and umbrella tables.
What a cool place to take a load off after a
reef dive in the Sea of Cortez.
Turning back towards the red rock canyons
behind the dive camp, we found a desert
wash running down from the mountains to
the beach. Lush vegetation grew all around
and beckoned to us to
walk in a little further.
Wandering into the wash,
we found ourselves
surrounded by healthy,
vigorous cactus. As we
got deeper into the
canyon, the sounds of
the bay began to vanish, replaced
by the buzz of heat bugs
alternating with the intense silence
of the hot desert rocks.
We have been away from the
desert for so long it felt like coming home. We happily
soaked up the dry heat, enjoying the feeling of the sun
prickling our arms. The cactus were amazingly thick,
and as we walked deeper into the canyon we were
suddenly immersed in utter silence.
We had come ashore just for a quick look around and
were wearing water shoes and bathing suits. This
place deserved a much closer look, and the next day
we came back dressed more appropriately for a
desert hike, armed with hats and hiking boots.
A few cardón cactus arms were trimmed
with flowers. Like their northern cousins,
the Saguaro cactus, these guys get
pollinated at night by bats, so their
flowers are timed for nighttime opening.
The hike is a scramble up a boulder filled
wash, and it was a good little workout
stair-stepping our way up. As the bay and
boats and beach receded behind us, we
became more and more certain that we were
deep in the Arizona desert, far from all
thoughts of oceans or water.
Little scraggly trees grew here and there, taking tiny sips
of water from the moisture that occasionally seeped down
the wash. Lizards crawled on the rocks at our feet.
Finally the boulders in the wash gave
way to a wide open pebbly expanse,
and we marched up and out of the
canyon onto a vast plateau. Sensing a
stunning view just over the rise, we
picked up the pace to a near run until
we stopped short at the edge of a cliff
that hung out over the water below.
The Sea of Cortez stretched for miles
of blueness into the distance, and we
could clearly see every rock and
contour of the water hundreds of feet
After inhaling a few
deep breaths of
satisfaction we started
back down again,
watching the little cove
of Ensenada Grande
growing beyond the
desert rocks and
cactus. What a
fantastic combination of
desert and ocean.
As we walked the last few steps through the scrubby brush at the base of the wash, the dive
camp reappeared along the beach. The scene looked so inviting, like a little slice of heaven.
The Coromuel winds continued to howl at 20 knots all
night every night, making the boat swing and sway on the
anchor line. But we were close enough to the shore to
prevent any waves from reaching us, so we stayed flat and
One morning we caught the tail end of the previous night's
Coromuel wind for a ride up to Isla San Francisco. With
the breeze at our backs we romped along steadily at 8
knots, exhilarated to feel the boat surge forward in
response to even the slightest puff.
Isla San Francisco has a picturesque anchorage that is shaped like a
huge circular hook and is lined with a thin white beach. We took our
position among the collection of anchored boats and then just stared
at the shore for a while, mesmerized by the colors and the view.
Bright blue sky, craggy reddish rock hills, blindingly white sand, and
smooth green water lay before us. The island begged to be explored,
and we immediately dashed ashore to scurry up the short hike to the
ridge trail that snakes along the hills at one end of the bay. What a
perfect perch to gaze down at the anchorage and out across the bay
to the Baja mountains on the horizon.
There is another anchorage on the other side of the
island, opposite the favored "hook" anchorage, and it is
easily visible from this ridge trail as well. We pranced
along the skinny footpath, meeting the crews from
several other cruising boats and charter boats along the
way. This place is "not to be missed" and few boats
coming up from La Paz ever miss it.
During our stay we connected with the crews from two
bareboat charters. One was a young couple form
Vancouver Island aboard a McGregor 26 for a week.
After seeing so many heavily outfitted 40' cruising
sailboats driven by grey haired retirees, it was refreshing
to see these two kids in a little boat arrive in the anchorage.
Their sailboat was outfitted with just a simple outboard
engine, tiny solar panel and mini-fridge, but what a blast
they were having. They swam and snorkeled with
abandon, and when we invited them aboard Groovy for
cocktails along with some other cruisers, it was soon
evident that even at their young age they were more
experienced sailors than many cruisers.
We saw several sleek
charter sailboats from
the Moorings too. The
one with the Swiss
family aboard was our favorite. They were celebrating their 20th anniversary and sharing
the moment with their four young teenage and pre-teen children. The mom and dad were in
and out of the water as much as the kids were. Sunbathing, reading, teasing each other,
and pushing each other over the sides, this family made the most of every day. They were
on the boat for just a week and they liked Isla San Francisco so much they stayed for four
nights. Like the other young charterers, they were seasoned sailors, and had chartered all
over the Mediterranean and Caribbean. We were impressed when they headed out for an
afternoon daysail and sailed off their anchor with ease, rather than using the engine.
Watching these exuberant vacationers was
inspiring. It is easy, after living this lifestyle for a
while, to forget just how special each day is. When
Mark stood on the swim platform for a very long
time one afternoon, debating whether or not to
brave the cold water, I reminded him, "Hey, those
folks on the charter boats wouldn't think twice..." With
a loud splash and a gurgled shriek, he hit the water
and bounced back to the surface
wearing a satisfied smile.
Isla San Francisco has another
hiking trail that leads up to a higher
peak. This trail is not used too often,
and after passing a few rock cairns
that marked the start of the trail, we
were soon scrambling up an
unmarked pebbly, slippery slope.
At the top we were rewarded with
marvelous views that were well worth
the dicey descent that followed.
We had heard news of an impending late season "Norther" that would
bring big north winds and stormy seas for a few days. Crews of boats
began strategizing which anchorage would offer the best protection,
and because of the huge cruising event called "Loreto Fest" going on
a bit north of us, we knew we would be challenged to find a good
anchorage that wasn't already loaded with other boats if we didn't get
going soon. Looking back with 20-20 hindsight we now realize we
should have stayed put at Isla San Francisco for another week, as it
offers the best north wind and wave protection in the area. But we
didn't, and we were soon in for a wild ride before we found paradise
again at Agua Verde.
Find Isla Partida (Ensenada Grande) and Isla San Francisco
on Mexico Maps.