The Sea of Cortez, So Far

Finally heading north to the Sea of Cortez!


My impressions of the Sea of Cortez so far: It is hot. And it is only June. This worries me a bit. As for the scenery – it is beautiful in a deserted, rugged way. The best description I can come up with is it looks like someone flooded Utah and we can sail there. There is a certain oddness sitting in a sailboat on the water, looking at a barren rocky shoreline with cacti dotting the topography.

Other than our “weekend getaway” from La Paz up to Calita Partida, we remained Sea of Cortez virgins. Well, not completely, as we’ve crossed the Sea three times and counting, but crossings don’t really count for cruising and pretty much all you see is land, a lot of water, than land again. And the pages of your book (or Kindle screen, I guess I should say now) and the back of your eyelids during your breaks from the helm. Well, and some dolphins and leaping rays. But my point is that we have yet to anchor up in the cruising grounds of the Sea of Cortez.

Jenn and Minion coil up our once again empty fishing lines. We WILL catch another fish this summer.

So after a couple busy, expensive days in La Paz we were loaded up with food, fuel (diesel and propane), a new Mexican courtesy flag (that of course is still waiting to replace the half of the one we are currently flying), various supplies such as oil for the dinghy outboard and water for the batteries, and full stomachs from one last Shack Burger, we once again left La Paz. Our first night was once again in Calita Partida although we didn’t go exploring this time. Since Isla Espiritu Santo is so close to La Paz we’ll save that area for our next visit to the La Paz area.

So that is how you go to weather!

Tan Tori shows us a better way to travel.


If you look close, you can figure out why part of the island is white.


Our next stop was Isla San Francisco, which we really enjoyed. It might have been a tad bit better if we had moved to another anchorage just around the corner of the island for our second night that would have afforded better protection from the SW winds that came up, but it wasn’t the most uncomfortable night we’ve had at anchorage. There are some great beaches, hiking, and probably snorkeling although we didn’t explore that option. We chatted with a father and his two young kids and got the scoop on snorkeling for agates at one of the beaches so we’ll try that on our return. We also caught up with our friends on Tan Tori who we hadn’t seen since La Cruz (I’m thinking we last saw them the night of the big tourist party, but it is a bit fuzzy). A swing by to say hi turned into drinks, then dinner, than more drinks. They are also planning to spend the summer up north so I’m sure our paths will cross again, maybe even this evening as we are headed back to the anchorage they are currently in.

Sierra de la Giganta mountain range from Isla San Fancisco.


After seeing these teeth, I may rethink the swimming.



Just the typical Sea of Cortez scenery.


Hard to believe this was taken a few hundred feet from a sea.


Sun baked crab.


Jenn taking a beach stroll, me trying to learn some of the modes on my fancy camera.


Gotta stretch the legs on shore and scamper up to the vantage point.

From Isla San Francisco, we took a short 5 mile jaunt to San Everisto, a fairly protected bay with a small fishing village. We made it ashore and wandered around, checking out the local Tienda which had some pretty limited supplies, none of which we needed just yet after our La Paz shopping spree just a few days back. The highlight was a very cute dog we dubbed Pepe that joined us midway through our walk and escorted us for a bit till another dog proved more interesting than our constitutional. The protected anchorage was nice as we had another windy night of the local Corumels. These winds come up in the evening and often last through the night, blowing from the south to southwest (the direction many anchorages in this area are exposed to). They are localized to the (greater) La Paz area and are formed by air blowing across the Baja peninsula from the cooler Pacific waters to the warmer waters for the Sea of Cortez. While they don’t blow every night in the summer, they are frequent. On the plus side they cool things down and keep the bugs off the boat, but at 20-30 knots of wind they can test your ground tackle and can cause you to wake up frequently at night to make sure your boat is still where you anchored it. The good news is they tend to stop by the time you reach Aqua Verde, our next stop. The bad news? Elaphantes and Chubascos. And in another couple months, hurricanes. It isn’t all Pina Coladas at sunset in paradise! But now that we have successfully made ice against our fridge evaporator plate, it is more Pina Coladas.

Beachfront homes in San Evaristo.


Our friend Pepe.


Jenn gets the once over from a vulture. Maybe we were walking a little slower than we thought in the heat.


I think the truck is worth more than the house it is parked in front of.


I can’t pass up the animal pictures.


You don’t have to share the road with bicycles, but you may have to move over for a burro.


Aqua Verde was our next stop, a pleasant little village but a bit bigger than San Everisto. While the rugged Sierra de la Giganta mountains frequently come right down to the sea, here there is a bit of a flat spot with enough water coming from some where to grow some beautiful green vegetation. We went ashore to explore a bit and one of the locals bumping down the dirt road in his pickup stopped and offered us a ride when we asked him where the tienda was. While I was trying to phrase the question in my head, Jenn asked him in Spanish how many people lived there. About 150-200 people, enough to actually support two tiendas. They do not, however have any internet, although one house did have a phone he informed us when we asked about feeding our online addiction. We checked out both tiendas and again, neither was quite like shopping at a Safeway back home (and have I mentioned we would probably commit crimes for a shopping spree at Trader Joes?). We picked up some bananas and tortillas, but struck out on the goat cheese our guide book recommended finding in the area. While the town lacked the traditional square in the center many towns here feature, as we walked back to our dinghy around dusk kids began playing with a soccer ball on the basketball court that was roughly in the middle of things and several adults seemed to be strolling around the town.

Slacker goat – we could not find any goat cheese.

The next day we pushed 17 miles to an anchorage at Candeleros. As we approached from the south you have to round a small point, and there it is, a beautiful resort with a 5 pool complex, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Sadly they have discontinued taking a boat around the anchorage in the morning with free coffee and pastries for cruising boats which they did last year, but they are still allowing us unwashed heathen cruisers to use the pool and there is wi-fi in the bay if you have an antenna (where I’ll be posting this later). We went to the office and “registered” which involved getting a wristband and card for purchases at the resort in exchange for a credit card imprint. We found out happy hour was 4-6 pm with 2×1 drinks. Even with buy one get one free, they were some of the most expensive drinks we’ve had in Mexico. But to put it in some perspective – at Las Hadas in Manzanillo they wanted 200 pesos a day to land the dinghy at their dock, and with that fee you could also use the pool. Here we can drag our dinghy up on the beach for free, hang out at a nicer resort with better service and get free wifi, and we were paying about half the dinghy dock fee and actually receiving drinks. So all in all, not the worst deal in the world. This resort is reached by driving several miles on a dirt road, and is about 25 miles from the town big enough to have an airport. If you want a secluded stay somewhere, this could be your place. If you can manage to get here.

The resort in the middle of nowhere. I really want to see the business plan for this place.


This anchorage wasn’t in our guide book and with the nearby exposed rocks I’m a little curious how these two decided to anchor here.


Sea, meet sky.

We took advantage of the resorts offer to let sailors ride their shuttle to Loreto if it wasn’t full of paying guests. Loreto appears to be a fairly nice town, with more than just basic supplies (finally). As it is kind of the hub of commerce in the area, we’ll explore it more and I’ll document it after we do. We were just kind of on a quick trip to pick up some perishables were were starting to run low on. Of course, when we arrived in Loreto we planned to take the next shuttle back, just a few hours later at 4:00 pm. But when we signed up for it, we were 18 and 19 on an 18 passenger bus. The next bus wasn’t till 9 pm and put us in the position of hesitancy to buy anything that could spoil if we didn’t make it on the bus and had to wait 5 more hours (have I mentioned the heat yet?). We made the choice to limit our purchases, and of course that meant we made it back on the bus which actually held 19 counting the front seat. Live and learn…

So far we are enjoying this area, lots of anchorages within a day or two of sailing, and access to supplies although we have to work a bit harder for them and pay a bit more for them. We’ve caught up with some boats we know and look forward to meeting some new people as we visit the various anchorages. Right now our “plan” is to hang out in this area for a bit, but we’ll eventually work our way further north as hurricanes have been know to visit this area, but historically not till later in the summer.

Just another anchorage…

Random Reasons to Love Mexico

The raw water pump on our engine has progressed from working flawlessly (after a bit of fixing up when I bought the boat) to dripping slightly to pretty much having a small stream of water exiting the weep hole while the engine is running.  Being in La Paz, with a strong local support group and multiple marine stores and repair shops, it seemed like a good place to tackle the problem.   After my initial inspection I though just tightening down the bolts and cleaning up the surfaces a gasket sat between might do the trick, but alas, it was not that simple.  The next step was tracking down a rebuild kit, which I found back in the US for $110.  Which didn’t really solve me problem of getting the pump fixed quickly so we could get out of town.  I also found directions for rebuilding the pump online, and it could be easy, or… it could get complicated if things didn’t come apart and slide back together easily.  I’m all about self sufficiency but building a home made bearing press didn’t sound all that fun.

So I put out a call for information on the morning net, and received the name of a shop that worked on pumps along with the stellar directions “On the street next to the Chedraui” (large grocery store Jenn and I have become fond of).  Armed with these directions and the pump in my backpack, off I went.  The directions proved remarkably good, and I only walked around an extra block or so because of my own confusion, but once I got on the right street I spotted a sign and even knew that seeing the word Bomba on the sign was a good thing (pump for those of you who know less Spanish that I do).  I asked the man behind the counter if he spoke English – he responded “A little.”  I was able to tell him I spoke a little Spanish, and he basically said we’ll work it out.  Sure enough, with the visual of the pump, some words in Spanish, probably more on his part in English, we were able to establish that they could fix it, I was to return tomorrow to pick it up, and it should cost just over half of the cost of the rebuild kit.  Not including somehow getting the the kit to Mexico.

As I returned to the boat, it occurred to me I had left a very necessary part of my engine with someone with nothing more than my name written on scrap of paper and a promise of it being ready tomorrow.  And based on my experience in Mexico so far, I wasn’t the least bit concerned about this.

Sure enough, the pump was ready the next day, rebuilt, polished up a bit, and priced right at their estimate.  It didn’t take long to get it bolted back onto the engine and all the hoses put back in place.  Fingers thinking about crossing, I fired it.  Not a drop of water running out!  Hours of engine running later, it is working great.  The engine even seems to be running a bit cooler, although I didn’t think it was leaking enough water to effect the temperature.  Still, I’m not unhappy with this added benefit.

Almost seems a shame to put this shiny pump on…

…/ our not so clean engine. Yes, it is on the project list.

So, engine fixed up, we should be on our way out of La Paz, but a day or so later still sitting in the anchorage I heard some commotion on the Malecon.  It aroused my curiosity, but not Jenn’s, so I took a solo trip to shore to investigate.  There was a small parade starting, although certainly not on par with the Mexican Revolution Day parade we saw on our last visit to La Paz.  Unsure of the reason for the parade, I walked along the route and finally encountered street vendor giving out popcorn samples who offered me one in English.  I took him up on it and asked the reason for the parade.  He thought for a moment and replied “blood donation.”  Hmm, not something we have parades for back home, but no reason not to enjoy it.

A little further down the road, I found a stage and people starting to fill in the chairs set up in front of it.  I radioed Jenn and told her I might be awhile longer, and waited for the show.  It turned out to be a bit of a Mexican variety show, with singers, traditional dancers, and act of modern dancers, and even a local cheerleading squad.  Since I had thought to throw my SLR camera in my pack before heading ashore, I commenced with the picture taking.  About midway through the show and tried, in my apparently worst Spanish, to ask the MC how many more acts there were going to be.  She responded “You can ask in English.”  I guess I better break out those Spanish lessons I have on my computer.  After the told me we were about halfway through, she asked about my photography, and if I would be willing to share my pictures with her.  Of course!  I stayed for the rest of the show enjoying both the acts and the photography.  Still not giving up on the attempt to communicate with locals, I was successfully able to ask another woman taking pictures during one of the dance groups if her daughter was performing.

I don’t usually do this but based on our current somewhat less than great internet service, and a desire not to abuse what is somewhat of a gift of free access, here is a link to my pictures from the show which I uploaded under better internet access.

Eventually the show finished, and I headed back to the dinghy dock.  But my entertainment for the evening wasn’t quite over as I stumbled across a group promoting one of the candidates for president in the upcoming Mexican elections.  The political rallies here are bit different.  They gather a bunch of teenagers and a DJ at an intersection with a stop sign, and the kids dance, wave flags and signs, and hand out free swag.  I scored and umbrella and a couple LED lights that will work better than anything I have on the boat for works lights, and there is pretty much no mistaking me for a Mexican voter.  But if I could, Enrique Pena Nieto just made a compelling play for my vote (not that I remembered the name, but it on all the goodies I snagged).

The La Paz Shuffle

There is a phenomenon boats experience when anchored in La Paz known as the La Paz waltz.  The combination of wind and current tends to make boats move around their anchor in some unique ways, not always quite as expected.  You can end up pointing the opposite way as the boat next to you, even though normally boats at anchor tend to line up with each other.  We experienced quite a bit of it on our first trip here last fall.  Maybe it is the reduction in strong  northerly winds in the spring, or our repeated  change of anchorage locations, but we seem to be doing a little less waltzing on this visit, more just shuffling around our anchor.  Which is also what we’ve been doing the La Paz area.  When we arrived from Mazatlan after fairly smooth sailing with an escort of 30 or so dolphins for 20 minutes, we found the spot we wanted to anchor at occupied by a large ketch that has the look of a boat that is going to sit in the same spot for a long time.  Various supplies, including a sheet of plywood covered the decks, and as we did a drive by an older guy poked is head out from under the tarp cover and did not return my wave.  We moved to another spot, where we were informed by another older guy on a another large ketch that doesn’t look like it is going to move anytime soon either that the port captain would probably tell us to move.  Being the weekend we decided to wait to move, and when Monday rolled around we didn’t quite get to it either.  By Wednesday I had run into a cruiser from we met in La Cruz who offered up his spot in the anchorage as he was going into a marina for a few days.  So we shuffled off to that spot which worked out well except for a lack of good wi-fi signals.  Ahh, the pursuit of the perfect anchorage.

Just a few of the 30 or so playing around our boat.

I’m not sure how an animal that can swim so fast enjoys riding the bow wake at 5 knots, but they do.

Another bow shot. Did I mention we get excited when we see dolphins?

And now, a few bird pictures I took back in Mazatlan and never got around to posting.

A brown boobie taking flight.

Another brown boobie shot. They didn’t get their fair share of pictures last time around so I”m making it up to them.

I know, I’m a geek but this makes me think of a Klingon Bird of Prey warship. Geek mode <off>

A bird diving for fish while another laments their missed chance. Do you ever wonder how the first bird decided to dive at the water at full speed?

After all that work to get into a good spot, we decided to get out of town for a few days.  Our friend Marek, who had sailed down from Anacortes at the same time we sailed down the coast, was also ready to head out of La Paz, so we buddy boated up to Ispiritu Santo, an island just north of town set aside as a national park.  We hung out for a few days and enjoyed the rugged beauty and relative isolation of the area.  There were a few boats in the anchorage the first night, and then the weekend hit and it jumped to 14 boats.  In a rather bizarre moment for us, there was a time when there were more power boats then sailboats in the anchorage.  That was a first for us.  Of course, two of the powerboats had to anchor directly upwind from us.  With the winds at night running in the mid 20 knot range with some gusts over 30 (according to another boat, I still need to install our wind speed instrument) and my experience with some power boaters skill at anchoring I was on the nervous side.  Of course, they dropped their hooks just as it was getting dark and the wind was picking up and I wasn’t eager to move at that point so I just kept an eye on them.  For some reason they both moved to the other side of the bay allowing me to relax a bit, although with that much wind you still don’t sleep all that soundly.  Our third night the wind died out and we had a flat, quiet night of deep sleep.

Typical scenery at Ispiritu Santo.

20 miles from the nearest dock – but ready when they get there!

During the day we dinghied ashore and wandered around, checking out the hundreds or even thousands of fiddler crabs on one of the beaches.  There were numerous cacti growing near the water, and volcanic rock as well as visible layers of soil and rock in the hills rising out of water.  While not the green forests we are used to from the pacific northwest wilderness, there was a beauty to this anchorage, with reddish rocks and aqua green waters contrasting to provide spectacular vistas.  We also took a dinghy trip with Marek through a narrow, shallow channel that separates two islands.  After we made it through the channel we motored down to several large sea caves.  We had perfect conditions for the trip as we were on the lee side of the island and there was no swell we easily drove the dinghy into the the caves.  What we didn’t have is a camera, so we’ll have to go back for some pictures.  We stopped and did some snorkeling in some of the clearest water we’ve been in so far, although it was not the warmest.  The biggest warning about the Sea of Cortez we heard from people was the temperature, and so far we’ve had chilly nights and chilly refreshing water temperatures.  I’ll get back to you in August…  I found a gap in the rocks that allowed us to swim from the the snorkeling area into a sea cave and took several trips back and forth in Jaques Costeau mode.

Just another scene in the Sea of Cortez.

You do need to watch where you are walking – this is not a plant I want to bump into.

Another reason to watch where you are walking. These were the slowest moving crabs I’ve ever encountered and it would be easy to step on them.

Fiddler crab close up.

At some point in every photographers life, you have to try the B&W artistic shot.

The colored artistic shot of the same plant.

One more… the way the cactus dried out into a hollowed wood with patterned holes really was quite fascinating!

A bird that isn’t a boobie.

I thought this was a dead tree from a distance, but it is still hanging in there pushing out the green leaves.

Once you start going Black & White…

Interesting to see a park sign, right next to a fishing camp.

Not a bad spot to live and work. Assuming you don’t need internet, electricity and an Oxxo on the corner.

I guess I better get in one of these pictures.

I think this is a cactus in the process of flowering. But that is kind of an assumption on my part.

I’m not sure the sun hat is helping out.

 

While we were anchoring the dinghy a man from the powerboat anchored a couple hundred feet out from the sea cave swung by on a paddleboard to inquire about where we were anchored and the conditions there.  His boat was not in a spot our guide book listed as an anchorage – he was essentially just out in the open a few hundred feet from the side of the island, while we were tucked into a bay that our guide book showed charted depths for, with high cliffs providing some protection from wind and waves as long as there weren’t coming directly from the West.  I gave him information about our anchorage and asked how deep his spot was.  He said he anchored in about 110′ feet, but he probably drug anchoring during the windy night because it was now 130′ deep.  I asked him what kind of sea bed conditions he was in, but he didn’t know.  For those of you in the know, you can now understand my nervous moments having two similarly sized powerboats anchored upwind from me the previous night.  He said he was going to move over to our anchorage, but somewhat thankfully we didn’t see him show up before we left the next morning.

After a few days of what we felt was a little mini vacation, we decided to run back to La Paz.  As always, there are some projects to work on including a leaky water pump in the engine I would like to resolve while we are near a large city with good marine services.  Of course the morning we left there were dolphins in the bay and even a whale that we did not get a get enough look at to identify.  We idled around in the dinghy watching the dolphins but even at dinghy level they just don’t seem to want to come over for a petting session, much to Jenn’s disappointment.  Finally we said a goodbye to Marek who is heading north to explore a bit, while we pointed south back to La Paz.   Of course the there wasn’t any wind, but we did get yet more dolphins to entertain us before we finally got enough wind to sail for a bit.  I had sailed all the way out of the La Paz channel on the way north and tried to sail back in but had to use the engine for a little assist – best not to push it around channel markers the outline a course around a sand bar.

Marek from Spica – hopefully we’ll catch up again up north.

Dolphin in the anchorage with us.

And yet more dolphins on the way back to La Paz.

We should be in project mode, but we have a chance to go get some pool time at the nicest resort in town with the very friendly crew of Double Diamond before they return home to Washington for the summer.  Sometimes, you just have to know when to go hang out at the pool.

Quick Update

This will not be my typical update. No photos, and very brief. We had a good, fairly uneventful crossing from Mazatlan to La Paz. There was a bit of a breezy night spent at anchorage just outside of La Paz, but nothing like last time we were there. 20-25 knot winds, but from the south so not a lot of wave action. It still makes for a restless night though.

We’ve been enjoying La Paz again, although it is different this time as we aren’t hanging out with people we had known for awhile. I’ve swung by the morning coffee social at the local cruisers club and recognize some blue hairs, but the few cruisers we’ve seen in our age range aren’t people we recognize. We’ll try to make some new friends, but for now we are planning to head north to an island just a few miles from here and sample some remote anchorages for a few days. We’ll probably take some jaunts from La Paz over the next few weeks and get the boat prepped a bit for some hot summer cruising with the possibility of strong summer winds in the Sea of Cortez.

For a little entertainment, here is a video for a song that we’ve incorporated into our cruising philosophy. We can’t adopt it as a theme, since our friends on Jace have renamed their boat Knee Deep. They are taking the summer off from the cruising lifestyle, but to the Doolittles, this one is for you!

Just a note on the location – we went into this bay try and anchor but it was the one spot we couldn’t get our anchor to set. We’ll try it again next time we pass by, it has a hillside of brightly colored homes that are visible when passing by off the coast.

Viva Mexico

Recently a tour bus in Puerto Vallarta was robbed by masked gunmen. No one was hurt, just relieved of their valuables. A friend forwarded me a link to the news with the admonishment to be careful while I’m down here. My response was to thank her for the heads up, as I needed the reminder to not be complacent. We’ve been in Mexico for four months now, and so far our biggest crime prevention measure is to hoist our dinghy out of the water and lock it to the boat at night. Which I might be tempted to do just about anywhere now, considering how easily mobile a dinghy can be. Yes, we lock the boat when we are off of it, but often the companionway door is locked while a hatch big enough to climb through sits open so the breeze can blow in. We wander around small towns after dark to visit our favorite taco stands, take buses into non tourist areas, and wonder up and down local streets looking at shops or searching out some particular business.

I suppose we could be robbed at some point, but so far I’ve been no less worried about it here than back home. I pay attention to my bags, keep a good grip on the camera when I have it out, and be careful to not flash too much cash (pretty easy in my case…) Just as there are places not to go in most cities in the US, there are areas to avoid here. The problem is just not being as aware of them, but with common sense I don’t think they are hard to avoid. I spoke with one boat that hailed a harbor master in a port not in any of the guide books about entering the harbor. The harbor master asked them why then wanted to come there, and told them there was nothing there. They, as I would do, chose to sail to the next port.

Despite the recent robbery, we are having a wonderful time in Mexico, and have never felt unsafe. The people have been friendly and helpful, even when my broken attempts to speak Spanish don’t convey the correct message. But I still try, and I’m getting a bit better at it although I still have a long way to go. I can sometimes communicate more than an order of beer and tacos. The places we’ve frequented multiple times have seemed to enjoy having us return to their businesses.

And speaking of returning, we are entering a new phase of our cruise. Retracing our steps. I had to think about it, and realized this won’t be the first time we’ve anchored in the same place twice. When we sailed from La Paz to Mazatlan we stopped at an anchorage we had used on our way from Cabo to La Paz. But this is the first time we are stopping in towns we have visited, and will be seeking out places we shopped or ate. While everyone raves about the French baker in Barra (except for Ben on Jace) with good reason, we found a local bakery with croissants almost as good at a quarter of the price we’ll be swinging by. I’m looking forward to a walk on the empty beaches at Chamela. We’ll stop by a place that let use their internet all afternoon for a couple cheap beers and some nachos – in fact that is probably where I’ll upload this.

And of course we can hardly wait to get back “home” to La Cruz where we have many favorites, none more so than the Huanacaxtle Bar and Cafe and their 10 peso happy hour draft beer, free plates of Jicama, friendly service and Karaoke parties. As mentioned before it will be a bit bittersweet without our close friends that have sailed south, but we’ll toast them, renew old acquaintances and make new friends. And after that, back to La Paz where we will have the mouthwatering Shack Burger we have been craving since we left.

Mixed in with the familiar will be some new stops, a couple anchorages on our way north that we skipped on the way down, and hopefully a visit to San Blas on our way up to La Paz before we cross the Sea of Cortez back to the Baja side. And finally, up into the Sea of Cortez for the summer with countless bays and anchorages to explore. We’ve heard tell of clear waters, that you almost live in to help with the heat. Even with some hardships we are hoping for a summer of of new experiences, sights and locations. We thought long and hard about the Sea for the summer and in the end decided that after we had sailed such a long ways from Seattle to a renowned cruising ground we shouldn’t pass it by. Plus I’m cheap and we had only made it two chapters into our guide book for the sea and I don’t feel like I’ve gotten my monies worth out of it just yet.