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Yahoo! We completed the Pacific Baja and can now relax and say

“Buenos Dias from warm and sunny La Paz, Mexico!”

The Pacific Baja is vast, rugged, stark, sparsely populated, and (for us at least) very intimidating. The standard line in cruiser guidebooks is: “We advise south bound boaters to make as few stops on Pacific Baja as necessary and to get south as fast as possible.”

But we don’t move very fast, so when we found a book that listed all the little known anchorages along the Pacific Baja we grabbed it. And, for us, the Pacific Baja became a “cruisers boot camp,” giving us a dramatic first taste of what this life style is all about.

We’ve learned a whole lot in the 6 weeks since we first entered these foreign waters and raised the Mexican courtesy flag.

Lesson: The experience of cruisers who have gone before you is invaluable! Most survey data shown in the charts published today was obtained by the U.S. Navy in the 1880s and 90s. As a result, charts can often be woefully out of date. Problem is, you can’t be sure what info is current and what isn't! We often plotted a GPS position on the chart only to find it way off from what we were physically seeing. At Los Muertos, the GPS Chartplotter said we were anchored on land!
So boaters need to rely heavily on cruise books, notes and emails from cruisers who have gone before you. For Ensenada we were told: "look for the flag" but the last thing we expected was a flag that was THAT big!
Lesson: Political borders do not apply to Mother Nature. Mentally we were in a whole new place. Weather wise, we had Santa Ana winds for the first 4 days in Ensenada. In fact, the winds were gusting to 45 knots as we approached our slip in Baja Naval! Thank heavens they had several men there to catch lines to get us safely situated. The winds were so strong , they kept that giant flag fully aloft, making a constant and incessant background noise that nearly drove Paul nuts.
We were lucky to be able to stay at Baja Naval next to the town square and within easy walking distance of just about everything. This was the last marina we stayed in until we reached Cabo San Lucas over 800 miles further south.
Ensenada is Mexico with gringo training wheels. Businesses accept both pesos and dollars. Menus and signs are printed in Spanish and English. There is even an English newspaper called the Gringo Gazette. We went to a tourist restaurant in “gringo gulch” for our first Mexican meal.
Lesson: Forget those tourist restaurants. It’s OK to eat the local food – especially the fish tacos from this street vender. YUM YUM!
Wish we had spent more time learning Spanish before we left. The translation problems work both ways and make for some fun interactions and mental images. We particularly liked the prohibition on drinking. What if you expected to get caught? As for the dogs on a leash, we’ve only seen this in Ensenada.

Check out that last flavor!
Hey Bob!: The Rotary is everywhere!

Lesson: The “Paperwork Cha Cha.” If we enter a port of call with a port captain, this is what we must do: (1) go to Migracion [immigration office] with copy of passports and tourist visas and fill out paperwork, then (2) go to Capitan del Puerto [port captain] to submit our crew list, then (3) go to Banco [the bank] to purchase money order to pay for the necessary fees and then (4) return to the Capitan del Puerto to submit proof of payment and then (5) return to Migracion to show everything is done. If we are expecting to receive a shipment of parts for the boat, we must also go to Aduana (customs) to make arrangements to receive the shipment. When we leave, it is the reverse procedure with an added trip to API to make sure all appropriate port fees have been paid.

What makes this so onerous is twofold: first, each of these offices is the equivalent of going to the DMV without an appointment and, second, each of these is typically several miles away from each other. Cruisers expect to spend one entire day to check in to a port and then another entire day to check out. The only way to avoid this is to pay an agent to do it for you. Cost for a ship’s agent in Cabo San Lucas: $75 each way!! Cost for the same service in La Paz: $16 each way.

In Ensenada all of these different agencies have just been moved into one building. President Fox was in town to open that building on the very day we arrived in Mexico, so we were one of the very first boats to try out the “one stop” system. A vast improvement, but even still it took us one morning trip with a return visit in the afternoon to process our Ensenada check out papers! We paid Baja Naval to do our “check in” paperwork.

Lesson: When you are cruising, plan for your plans to be tossed right out the window! We planned to be in Ensenada just 2-3 days. We ended up staying almost a week because of Carnival!

As an aside: Watching one of the Carnival parades, we noticed many participants with foam on them. Then we noticed street venders selling cans of foam to the spectators. You can imagine the rest. Even the police were not immune from the foam.
Lesson: Once you get away from Ensenada, Turtle Bay and Mag Bay (the 3 widely recognized stops on the Baja coast), you can usually expect to be the only one at anchor (AND you don’t have to worry about checking in and out)!

One evening, as we were setting the anchor at San Roque, we were hailed over the VHF radio by a woman on shore. Sherrie, a Canadian, came south to teach English over 15 years ago. Two years ago she married Juan, a Mexican fisherman. San Roque is a dying town. Only 3 residents lived there now (Sherrie, Juan and a security guard for the lobster traps used by the fishermen from Bahia Asuncion). Sherrie made fresh empenadas for us (yummy!) and we had a paperbook trading session with her. Had the weather been better we would have stayed for a longer visit!
Lesson: Whales are an awesome sight! In February, the whales migrate north with their calves and we usually saw several whales each day. Regardless of what little we saw (a water spout, a fluke, or a back) each sighting was a treat. Later, when we were anchored in Chileno at the tip of the Baja we saw several waves breeching. Never did get a picture of that though.

Lesson: A windlass is great to have, but you can get along without it. Yes, the windlass failed us again. This time when we were trying to set our anchor off Isla San Jeronimo, just two weeks into our journey down the Baja. Since then all anchoring has been done manually! Better than going to the gym for “Arnie the Anchor Man!” One memorable day, Paul pulled up over 1,000 feet of anchor and chain because we couldn’t get the anchor to catch and set!
Lesson: In addition to being romantic, islands are also a source of protection from a storm. When we received a weather warning for a southerly coming through with 45 knot winds and 20 foot seas, we decided to hide out in Hasslers Cove on Isla San Martin.
Lesson: The weatherman isn’t always right! Unfortunately for us, those predicted 45 knot SW winds actually came from the SE, putting us on a lee shore and making an anchor watch mandatory.

Aside for Mom & the non-boaters out there: “anchor watch” means watching everything BUT the anchor to figure out whether or not you are staying in place. In our case, it meant watching our position on the GPS and the radar. Since there was one other boat in the cove, we agreed in advance to keep our VHF radio tuned in to channel 69 to make periodic check-ins with each other. We used our Single Side Band radio to obtain weather updates. Lastly, the chart was open and available just in case we needed to make a quick get-away. We were on anchor watch for 13 hours during this storm. What a long night it was too! We were using our Bruce anchor. It dragged twice but, thankfully, reset each time. We have since gone back to the tried and true CQR.

Special note to Daisy & Kansen: notice the good luck charm on the little bulletin board at our Nav Station? It served us well in this storm and many others! Thank you. We think of you often.

And there is nothing better, after the passage of a storm, than just relaxing. (As you can see, our homemade rain cover weathered the storm quite well!)

Lesson: You meet the nicest people cruising. Here we have Wolfgang, Josephine & Binta from the power boat “Tom Boy III.” They rode out the storm with us at Hassler's Cove and shared several anchorages with us after that.
Lesson: The forces produced by a storm give you the equivalent of “fast forward” movie action! We’ve made ourselves an anchor snubber that consists of two 5/8 nylon lines attached to a ½” stainless steel plate that attaches to our anchor chain. (We use all chain rode.) With this set-up the stresses from the anchor chain are translated to the nylon line providing for a much more comfortable ride when we are at anchor. Well, we remembered to put thimbles in the eye splices but never did get chafe protection on the portion of the nylon line that that goes over the bow of the boat. That one night in Hassler’s Cove showed us the error of our ways! As you can see, Serenity’s bucking around in the waves and wind chafed right through and tattered one of our nylon lines in just one night.
Lesson: The church and the dead are highly revered in Mexico. We visited the town cemetery at Bahia de Tortugas [Turtle Bay] and found the final resting places more elegant and elaborate than the homes of their living family members.

In little towns with only dirt roads, we could find a beautiful all marble church:
In San Roque, even though the town had been abandoned and the church boarded up, someone still kept the faith.

Lesson: Children are the same the world over. And a great way to meet them is to have the Goodwill Ambassadors Max & Myer with you!

And parents the world over have to deal with the same problems!
Lesson: Americans complain about taxes but do not recognize how much they rely on what those taxes pay for. Like paved streets, running water, garbage collection and on demand electricity. In the towns we visited, there were only dirt streets, the water came in bottles and the entire town was powered by one municipal generator that was turned on at dusk and turned off at dawn! One night in Turtle Bay there was a problem and they didn’t get lights on until several hours after dusk.

(Notice the "lawn sign" for February’s general election? It was NOT installed by Paul.)

As a sign of progress, navigation lights and communication equipment tend to be solar powered and some of the towns along the Baja are turning to wind generators.

Lesson: When towns have no piers, as most do not, you need to supply your boat via dinghy or find a way to have it delivered to the boat. In Turtle Bay, we had 100 gallons of water delivered in 5 gallon jugs. Total cost $30 US. These two gentlemen also delivered and pumped into our boat 250 liters (66 gallons) of diesel at $2.25 per gallon. Lastly, when he heard our CD “African Playground,” the gentleman on the right traded us 4 lobster tails and 6 fillets of white fish for a copy!
Lesson: On the Baja you can catch a quite respectable fish with just a hand line! Debi caught the first fish landed on Serenity.

Lesson: Shopping is different when there are no supermarkets, Wallmarts, or Costcos. On the Baja, stores are typically smaller than 200 square feet (10 feet by 20 feet), or they are located in the front porch or living room of the proprietor’s home. And they carry whatever the owner can find to sell. In Bahia de Asuncion we found a great little shop that carried fishing lures and disposable diapers!
Lesson: Despite what all the guidebooks say, you can find groceries along the Baja. You might not find the same brands you find in the US, but there is plenty to eat! So, there really wasn’t a need to go spend $300 at Costco in San Diego just to ensure we wouldn’t starve on our journey down the Baja! (Note about dog leashes. They are not required by law. But we discovered that Mexican drivers do not brake for people OR dogs. In some towns, the boys were put on a leash just to ensure they wouldn’t be run over.)
Lesson: The leading or retreating edge of a storm can bring you the very best of sailing conditions! On our run down to Turtle Bay, Serenity was on a beam reach and hit 7.5 knots in just under 20 knots of wind!
Lesson: A cruiser’s life is centered on the weather and the elements. The wind, the sun, the currents, and the tides, all determine where you can go, when you can go and in what comfort your trip will be. For 9 memorable days we were unable to get to shore because of the high winds which created too much wave action. We just could not safely launch and board the dingy.

On the positive side, being boat bound gives you a chance to catch up on all those things you wanted to do: like install in our cockpit the speakers we received from Earl Talbott as a Christmas present. Thank you very much Earl! It has been wonderful to have music in the cockpit while boat bound and on those long night passages.

But whenever we could get to shore we would be sure to get the pups off Serenity for some R&R and play time.
Lesson: Smile and good things happen! When we were at anchor in San Hipolito, two curious fishermen came by the boat on their way home from a day at the office. We smiled, said hello asked them how the day’s fishing had been and offered them a cerveza (beer). They accepted the beer, pulled away for a few minutes and then returned with a fresh fully filleted white fish. And you can’t get much fresher than that!

Lesson: News (“silly gringos give away cerveza”) travels fast in a small community. The very next morning, we were visited by two lobstermen who traded us beer for 4 freshly caught lobster. In Oceanside, four Pacific Lobster of the same size cost us $55. In Hipolito, they cost us a 6-pack (the cans of which came floating by us not more than one hour later)!

Lesson: Mexican fisherman (“Pangueros”) are to be admired. They make their living on that vast Pacific Ocean from little boats powered by a Yamaha outboard. (Some Yamaha salesman has made a killing on the Baja.) The fishermen have divided the Pacific Baja coast into sections, each controlled by a cooperative. Each individual fisherman works out of his own small boat. And each cooperative sets its own seasons and limits. So, lobster season was just ending in San Roque and still had a few weeks to go in Hipolito.

In some places the boats are hauled on to and off the beach using two tires and the axle from an old truck. In others, they are just powered up on to the beach. When they are on the water, it is a remarkable sight to see two fisherman riding 10 foot swells in their little boat, both standing up. One holding the handle of their outboard and the other holding a line attached to the bow.

We were advised to keep a large hammer on hand to bang the mast when a frigate bird decided to visit. Frigates are BIG with a wingspan from 7 to 8-feet (the greatest wing area in proportion to weight of any living bird). They are helpless if they land on water and cannot become airborne except from a tree, cliff or other lofty position. For this reason, they have a particular affinity for boat masts. One can’t help but cringe when a frigate approaches. My god you wonder, what if it crunches the wind instruments?
Unfortunately, the frigate that decided to visit Serenity was not intimidated by the hammer. No matter what tune we played, he would just flap his wings a bit and then send down a large poop. It took us awhile, but we finally learned to just leave well enough alone and let him have his way. Of course, we are slow learners sometimes, and we did not come to this conclusion until after Paul spent over 3 hours washing frigate bird poops off our deck, dodger and sail covers. That darn frigate even pooped on Myer’s nose while he was napping!

Lesson: You can find the internet in the most unlikely places! Being a Sunday, this little shop wasn’t open, but what fun it was to find it out in the little town of Abreoos. (Another lesson: An "open" sign in the window doesn't always mean the shop is open.)
Lesson: You find some of the best restaurants in the most unlikely places! We had yummy shrimp tacos, $.85 each, at this lonely place in Abreojos.
Lesson: Sometimes, things just don’t work out. In Bahia de Magdalena (“Mag Bay” as known by the gringos) we pulled into the Puerto Cortes Navy outpost and dropped anchor. We then waited to be boarded by the navy for our papers to be checked out. We offered them sodas and next waited for their invitation to come on base.
Well, we got permission to go ashore but were not able to take advantage of it because of weather and anchoring issues. RATS!!

Lesson: We’ve gotta figure out that tiller pilot because hand steering is a lot of hard work! The final leg of our Baja journey was 180 miles from Mag Bay to Cabo San Lucas. On the plus side, we had 25-30 knot winds from behind which sped us along at a great clip. On the negative side, we also had 10-12 foot seas from behind, a few of which actually broke over the stern of the boat. We left Mag Bay at 0645 on Saturday morning and arrived in Cabo San Lucas at 1000 the next morning.

And boy was it wonderful to finally be in warm and sunny weather. It was like we went through a door into the tropics when we rounded Cabo San Lucas. And the first thing we did was enjoy that beautiful warm sun and water!
We’ve spent two weeks traveling back up the East Cape of the Baja to the town of La Paz. The contrast between the two sides has been amazing. For the most part, the weather on the east side has been delightfully warm and sunny. We've had some wonderful anchorages and have enjoyed a lot of peace and quiet.

The water has been so warm and clear that Paul has been able to do some reef snorkeling, as well as inspect and clean Serenity’s hull.
The wild life has been stupendious. At each anchorage we’ve had a school of fish take up residence under the boat. At one place there were hundreds of needle nose gars, at another puffer fish. We’ve listened and watched more Manta Rays than we could count taking great leaps out of the water and belly flopping back down with a great echoing slap, slap, slap sound. We saw whales breeching close to the boat. We enjoyed the antics of a little black bird that swam along under the water surface by flapping his wings. When playing, the boys have had to race pelicans to get to their ball first.

One of our biggest challenges has been to keep Max, our heat sink, cool.

We started our Pacific Baja trip on January 30. We arrived at Cabo San Lucas, 800 miles later, on March 6. And then continued another 150 miles up the east cape of the peninsula to La Paz. Because of weather, we weren’t able to stop at every anchorage along the way, but we did get to quite a few:
We will stay in La Paz for a month or two to take care of boat and body-part repairs and to generally relax. We will then head up to the Sea of Cortez to wait out the hurricane season (June to October).
The weather is great,
the people are wonderful.
Come on down and visit us!

PS: We forwarded the info on our swimming bird to Clysta our avian expert. We quote her response: "I've consulted with all my birding friends and we have decided that you had the rare opportunity of viewing Chilly Willy on his annual migration to Antarctica. He was probably trying to get Paul to toss him a beer." Clysta, are you trying to tell us you think we've been in the sun too long?

Not all who wander are lost.

Copyright © 2005 Shaimas. All rights reserved. Last updated 3/22/05