Sailing – Mexico – Sea of Cortez
I believe in planning ahead and I knew even before we departed San Diego, that we would want to have a few nights on land after being at sea for so long. In my past professional life I traveled a lot and as a result I had some points left over from my Marriott Rewards. Actually, I was still shy a few points, so I enlisted the help of my fellow traveling friend Greg, who has over 2 million airline miles and a massive amount of Marriott Points. He gifted us some additional points so we could stay two nights at the beautiful JW Marriott Los Cabos Beach Resort and Spa.
As soon as the boat was tied up to the dock and we were checked into the Marina, we grabbed a taxi and whisked off to the resort. This was a brand new JW Marriott and there were only 44 couples in the entire resort. It was usual walking around the resort and seeing almost no people. As you can imagine, the service was impeccable. We ate at some amazing restaurants and Melissa was so impressed with one of the dishes, that she went into the kitchen to thank the chefs. The chefs were so impressed with Melissa, that they invited her to cook with them in the kitchen as their guest chef.
We invited Pat & Alaina of Swift Ranger to come up and enjoy a dinner with us at the resort. We didn’t realize that it would take them hours of bus rides and taxi rides to get to the resort. When they arrived, we laughed, drank, ate and had a great time together talking about our shared ocean going adventure. They ventured back to their boat that night and we made plans to visit them at Costco in Cabo San Lucas.
Somewhere along the way, each one of us came down with a stomach virus or something and we weren’t feeling the best. The day when Melissa and I left the hotel, I was fluish and run down. We did the same taxi/bus trip down to Cabos San Lucas that Pat & Alaina did to visit us. We met at Costco and spent the afternoon provisioning. I know Costco has an amazing return policy, so I told customer service that my SUP board (that I bought at Costco Carlsbad, California) was damaged and I asked if they would take it back as a return. I told them that I would purchase two inflatable SUP boards with the credit. To my amazement they said to bring the board in the next day and they would credit me. I couldn’t believe it.
On the way home, we had to take several buses and as it started to get dark we missed our last stop. We ended up going down some dirt roads into some small villages and we eventually asked the bus driver if we missed our stop. Through our broken Spanish he understood and miraculously took us back to our missed stop.
Of course then next day, we rented a SUV and brought the board down to Costco and they did take it back. Crazy. We used the credit and paid a little more money for two brand new inflatable SUP boards. We drove down to Cabo San Lucas Marina to walk around and check out the site. We were less than impressed. Walking around the marina is like going to Las Vegas or any other loud and obnoxious tourist trap. Vendors and hawkers yelled at us to visit their stores, use their services and that’s not the kind of atmosphere we thrive in.
We saw Pat working on his boat across the marina and went over to say, “Hi” to them. They said they were planning to sail up the coast to our marina in the next few days. Yay! We couldn’t wait to get our buddy boaters back.
Over the next few days, Melissa and I just hung out in the marina area and enjoyed the beauty, beaches and met some other great people slipped next to us.
One day, I was walking back to our boat and there was a giant sea lion lying on the dock right next to our boat. Trying not to wake it as I walked by, I decided to take a quick video. Right as I got onto our boat, the sea lion woke up and growled at me. Geez! Scared the heck out of me.
Swift Ranger came into port and we showed them around. We were anxious to head north, however the winds were still howling straight south. We made one attempt to leave with Swift Ranger one day and got turned around because it was just too turbulent.
We had had enough. We asked Pat & Alaina over to Harlow Hut for a formal boat name changing ceremony. We had changed the boat name from Privilege to Harlow Hut, since it is our home on the water. We purged the boat of all previous references to the old name and had to do the formal ceremony to ask King Neptune/Trident for his blessing and to protect us from heavy seas and winds. It’s an age old tradition and we didn’t do it before leaving San Diego. We all had some drinks and then preformed the ceremony and pouring rum in the ocean water at the four corners of the boat (bow/stern/port/starboard). Alaina brought a stick of Palo Santo and lit it and blessed our boat in her own way. If I haven’t mentioned it yet, Pat and Alaina are literal rock stars (their band is Tennis) and Alaina began to sign the most beautiful prayer in Latin. It was so beautiful. I think we all had tears in our eyes, when she was finished.
After nine days of waiting for the weather, we finally saw an opportunity to head up the coast. Swift Ranger told us they were going to wait a couple more days and they would meet us in one of the anchorages to the north.
After leaving at dawn, it only took us seven hours to make it to our next anchorage of Los Frailes.
As soon as we anchored, I looked across the small bay and saw a wave peeling across the rocks. I have been a surfer for most of my life. I have two older brothers who surfed and I really got into it when I was only 8 years old.
I told Melissa I was going surfing and she was so happy for me. She knows how stoked I get when I get in the water. Within minutes I had my board out of the board bag and I was paddling across the bay to catch some surf. It was a pretty small wave and it was breaking in some really shallow reef but I had to feel the power of the waves pushing me along. I dropped in, pumped down the wave and saw a big boil in the water (rock) and maneuvered around it and then finally kicked out. Ahhh! The feeling. I have no idea what kind of endorphins surfing releases but it is the ultimate high. Even in small waves, the stoke is there.
Later on, Melissa and I decided to snorkel around the boat and check out the rocky reef. As we were snorkeling, we saw a giant school of Mobula, which is a close relative to the Manta Ray. There were so many we could barely see the sea floor. It is just amazing to watch these rays swim and enjoy themselves. These rays used to be called Devil Rays because of their horn appendages. They jump out of the water and the larger ones fly into the air as high as 30 feet.
When we got back onto the boat we could see and hear them jumping out of the water. These rays were juveniles and only about 3 to 5 feet across and they were only jumping a few feet out of the water but it was amazing to watch. After a while of hearing them do belly flops all day and night, we began to call them “floppers”.
On the second night, we noticed a few people climbing around the rocky cliffs as the sun was going down. Once it was completely dark, I noticed they were still on the cliffs and appeared to be in need of help. They were trying to find their way through a pass using only their lighter as a way to light their path. I jumped in the dinghy with some emergency gear and headed over to help. I was rowing since the engine was already stowed away for the night. As I approached, I was getting close to the surf zone and didn’t want to be a rescuer in need of a rescue, so I stopped and ascertained the situation. It appeared they actually made it through the pass and wouldn’t need my assistance after all. I radioed Melissa and told her I was rowing back. It’s a small thing, but due to my training in the U.S. Coast Guard, I felt prepared to offer assistance if they needed it.
After two days of playing in the beautiful waters of Los Frailes, we decided to continue on.
Bahia de las Muertos
Leaving just at sun up, it took us only 10 hours to motor sail to Bahia de las Muertos. We motor sailed because, believe it or not, there was finally no wind! I guess the boat naming ceremony worked!
Once we were safely anchored in 20 feet of sandy bottom, we took the dinghy into the beach and went on a little hike. It’s a beautiful and long white sandy beach with sand dunes going off into the desert. After beachcombing, we headed back to Harlow Hut for a sundowner drink and watched the sunset from our ocean view property.
The next day I had the privilege of cleaning the bottom of the boat. Usually, cleaning the hull isn’t so hard, if you have scuba tanks but when you’re free diving, it gets a little exhausting after a while. There wasn’t too much growth on the bottom but enough to warrant some deep scrubbing and a few barnacles to detach. As I going back and forth, I noticed a baby shark lying on the sandy bottom. I dove down to check it out. It was no longer alive and was most likely a product of the local fishing for sharks. Sharks are amazing fish and I love to dive with them whenever I get the chance. If you didn’t know, most sharks are ovoviviparous, the eggs hatch inside the mother shark and they continue to be nourished by an egg yolk and some fluids, then the young are born alive and fully functional. The other two ways are laying eggs (oviparity) or giving birth to live sharks (viviparity). I’ve seen egg sacks laying in kelp gardens with little baby sharks inside. Really cool.
Swift Ranger sailed into the anchorage and we were elated. We all went to the local restaurant and enjoyed some really amazing food. We heard there was internet, so we brought our devices. Mexico has some of the best cell phone coverage that I’ve ever seen. We were in the middle of the desert and there was still service. Yes, you had to follow the directions on the sign that read, “For cell phone service, walk down the path to the fig tree”. It worked.
Since it was a very open bay with hardly any obstructions, we decided to leave early (0330) the next morning to catch the tides correctly going through the Cerralvo Channel.
We were finally back buddy boating with our favorite couple. We headed through the Cerralvo Channel and were really doing well. We caught the current perfectly. Swift Ranger was leading and we were just motor sailing along at a mellow pace.
I decided that this would be the perfect chance to finally fly my drone and get some overhead shots of Harlow Hut and possibly a whale or some big pelagic (open sea) animal. I had to ask the assistance of Melissa to launch the drone and she was scared to death that the propellers were going to catch her hair in the wind and tangle them all up in the motors. Not a pleasant thought. Well, we got the drone into the air and got some good footage but then it was time to land it on a moving yacht. Not easy. I hadn’t flown it in a while and it was tricky to say the least. I almost hit the shrouds and other parts of our boat and if I did, my GoPro and drone would smash into the ocean and be lost forever. “Hey,” I thought, “what about stopping the boat?” Drrr.
We stopped the boat and landed the drone with no problem. Got some cool photos too.
As we passed the San Leandro Channel we saw some whales and that was a great welcome to the Bay of La Paz.
We slowly approached Balandra Cove and we were awestruck. The sands of the cove looked like a smaller version of Australia’s Whitsunday Islands. There were swirls of multi-layer sand spits which created all sorts of blues, browns, greens and other colors that pleased the eyes. After we anchored, I offered to take Pat & Alaina for a tour in our dinghy to explore the sites.
We meandered all over and finally reached the head of the estuary. We decided we would adventure up there at another time and went off to check out the sand dunes. There were droves of tourists walking around in the knee to chest deep water and as soon as their tour buses left, there were only a handful of people left.
Pat and I went up and played on the sand dune while our beautiful wives relaxed beachside.
The next morning Melissa and I went on our own little adventure and did some short hikes and motored our dinghy around the cliffs and reefs. This place is really beautiful, however we were ready to get to La Paz and experience another side of life there.
We left just before noon and of course, there were beautiful big whales breaching and playing just outside of the cove. I wanted to swim with them so bad but every time we slowly approached, they dove deep and we lost them. Oh well, maybe next time.
If you have never sailed into the La Paz Channel, it is a little daunting. Of course, every place we have sailed in Mexico, is a brand new experience and we only have charts, maps and cruising guides to help us along the way. You have to trust your instruments (depth sounder, GPS, compass, etc.) The channel has a pretty strong current that runs through it and it can affect your steering, if you’re not careful.
Swift Ranger was in front of us and they were scouting along the marker buoys. They radioed to us that their depth sounder was not working correctly, so we moved into the lead. We navigated to a place where we felt safe and then we called some of the marinas to see if there were any vacancies. Marina Cortez was the only marina with vacancies and we immediately found out why. They were expensive! They were almost twice the cost of the other marinas. Well, we really had no choice, since we wanted the convenience of being docked for at least a day.
Once we tied up and cleared in with the marina, we were off to check out the town.
We only stayed one day at this marina and figured we could just anchor in the harbor until another marina opened up.
When we decided to depart Marina Cortez, a lady in the next slip from us, asked if we needed help casting off the lines. “No thanks. I think we got it.” I said. Note: If someone offers help, take it, every time.
Melissa was at the helm with the engine running and I cast off the stern (back) line, then walked forward to cast off the bow (front) line. The second I removed the line from the cleat, the boat started backing up quickly to starboard. We both forgot how fast the current was in the channel and it was pulling the boat quickly across the marina backwards and sideways. I immediately ran down and around the dock as Melissa yelled, “How are you going to get on?” I jumped about 8 feet from the dock and landed on the side of our boat grabbing onto the shrouds. I jumped down into the cockpit and powered up the motor and turned to port. We were in the clear with another lesson learned.
We anchored out just off of Marina de La Paz. We were waiting for our friend Michael O’Neill to get back from San Diego. He has been living in La Paz for the last eight years and was a wealth of knowledge.
Anchoring off of La Paz is a completely different experience due to the tides constantly moving the boat around. You will swing around in a circle every day, twice a day. Needless to say, you have to make sure you have set your hook (anchor) really well.
We finally got a slip at the fuel dock at Marina de la Paz and Swift Ranger tied up along another dock at the same marina. Our friend, Michael O’Neill also made it back into town from his recent stay where he grew up in San Diego.
We were so happy to see Michael. He seriously knows everyone and every place in town and was the best host you could ever imagine. We offered to take him out to dinner and we had some of the best food in Mexico. Michael knows every hole in the wall restaurant and all the big spots too. He offered to drive us around and show us the town.
We found out where we could get our laundry done for $12 US (for three bags of laundry), where the best fish tacos were, where the marina stores were and so much more. He also introduced us to Milton and his wife Susu, who own a wonderful little secured villa (Casabuena B&B) in the heart of everything.
Snorkeling with Whale Sharks
Michael also took us out to dive with the local Whale Sharks. We loaded up on his dinghy one morning and made a fast ½ hour drive to the site. We made a shortcut over the sandy shoals and it’s great to be with someone who is in the “know”. Snorkeling with the whale sharks is quite a workout. The giant fish swim a few miles an hour and you have to constantly swim hard to keep up with them. Usually, you drop off the side of the dinghy as they approach and you swim right up to them. The water that day was pretty murky, so it’s even more exhilarating when you can’t see a 20+ foot whale shark and then all of the sudden, it’s right in front of you. We have some great video.
Well, since Michael is a musician and Pat & Alaina are rock stars, Michael invited us to a few of his gigs. One was about an hour away near the kitesurfing area of Mexico, Le Ventana. This cabana playa place was really cool and had a great funky vibe. Michael and his band played all night and got several encore requests, which made it even more fun.
One day, the marina asked us if we could move our boat to make way for another yacht coming in that needed our spot. “Of course we could, where would you like us to move?” we asked. “How about in between the yachts across from the fuel dock?” OK. Easier said than done. The two yachts we had to dock next to, turned out to be owned by one of the world’s richest men. We were extremely careful when we tied up next to these super-yachts. They were massive and when he visits, there are armed guards all over the docks. Needless, to say, we felt safe there.
While we were in La Paz, we wanted to get some pretty substantial work done to our boat. We had carried a second solar panel on the side of our boat (in the surf racks) all the way from San Diego and we wanted to get it installed and working before we left. Of course, Michael helped us broker that deal too. He knew of a friend that could do it in 3 days for a really reasonable amount of money. I tried for 3 months in San Diego, just to get a quote and these guys did it in three days and even put in a dinghy motor davit. They completely added a whole new frame of stainless steel to add the second panel and it was done to be rugged and secure. We also had our jib sail repaired by some new friends and we got that done for a deal too. They didn’t have a website when we were there, but you can look up Stephen Arnold in La Paz. The funniest thing was, when it was time to pay, he wrote down the invoice on a piece of cardboard, which was classic Steve all the way. It’s now in our precious keep sake mementos.
We tried to repay Michael by taking him out at every chance we could and I also helped to clean the bottom of his boat during slack tide one day. Small gestures of repayment which I think he appreciated.
Swift Ranger had one of their friends fly in to do a photo shoot with them and then they were off to explore the islands and northern part of the Sea of Cortez.
Well, after twelve days and lots of fun later, we were off to cross the Sea of Cortez to make landfall in Mazatlan.
Isla Rocas Bay
The first day out we decided to make it a short day sail to a little bay just south of Balandra Bay at a place I called Isla Rocas Bay. It was really pretty and had a lot of greenery along the shore banks. Melissa finally got to use her new fishing pole that we got in La Paz. I taught her how to cast and within a few minutes she was casting like a pro. She didn’t catch anything, but it was fun and relaxing just to sit there and cast and reel in, while the sun went down.
Bahia de las Muertos (second time)
The next morning we left at a relaxed pace and went to our last anchorage on the Baja side of Mexico. We decided we liked Bahia de las Muertos as our last stop. Since we had already been there, we arrived just after dark and had no problems anchoring. The next morning, we went in and had one more delicious breakfast at the restaurant and I had my favorite, Huevos Rancheros. Yum.
On the way back to the boat, we ended up breaking our oar lock. It was a little thing to fix, but it’s really a bummer to have to row with a broken oar lock. Both Melissa and I each took an oar and paddled like we were on a SUP board.
We left just before noon and the conditions couldn’t have been better.
We motor sailed for two days across the Sea of Cortez. There was almost no wind and the water was like glass. During the day, we would pass turtles that were sleeping on the surface and they were so relaxed that seabirds were standing on them as if they were rocks in the middle of the Sea.
The night was the best though. The luminescence of the water shimmered like fiery blue fireworks and you would think your eyes were playing tricks on you, because in the water there were flashes of light coming off of the Humboldt squid that looked like a bombing raid over a city. There were so many squid at different levels in the water, that some would flash on the surface, while others deeper down and it created the effect of multiples flashes at different intensities. It was the first time Melissa had ever seen anything like that and she was amazed and intrigued.
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