Scenes of Loreto

On our way down from San Juanico to Puerto Escondido for whale watching, we passed some beautiful striated cliffs. These were just north of another anchorage called Punta Mangles. It was notable for the hulks of abandoned hotel construction on its shores.

On this return visit to Puerto Escondido, at the end of March a month after our first time there, it was obvious spring had come and birds were migrating through. There was also quite a bit more boater activity, probably partly because this was the Semana Santa week – Holy Week, to celebrate Easter, and the biggest vacation week of the years for Mexicans.

I had a good time finding a number of birds in the scrublands around the marina and getting some good shots of them. I did not manage to get any of the rufus hummingbirds which migrate across the Sea of Cortez in one shot on their way north to the US and Canada, but they were definitely around!

Larry did not believe me that this is an oriole, but his frame of reference might have been the Baltimore Orioles mascot.
This little one is drinking from the irrigation tube for a palm tree – they do have to irrigate them to keep them beautiful.
These are a southern version of a cardinal, called Pyrrhuloxia, identified thanks to my Mom!
This half of a pair of finches were spending a lot of time in the mast of the neighboring catamaran and had beautiful and noisy songs.
This one also had a good song, which is how I found him somewhat hidden in a bush.

Since we had the car, we made a trip into Loreto to check out the malecon and the waterfront and to get more tacos. We happened to choose a day when the winds were blowing a steady 20 + knots, which you can see in the palm trees!

This is the beach right in front of town, with the extinct volcano of Isla Coronados in the distance.
This whale statue is at the base of a pier extending out to create the small harbor.
Looking back toward the harbor from a second breakwater.

Return to Baja and Whale Watching

We decided to head from San Carlos directly back to San Juanico on the Baja side of the Sea, and left at first light.  Conditions for the 100 mile crossing could not have been better – flat calm seas and light, variable winds.  The crossing was uneventful and the wind gradually picked up to about 15 knots in the afternoon, coming from the SE.  Given that wind direction we decided to anchor in the South end of the San Juanico Bay.  When we arrived, however, the swell rolling into the bay was pretty substantial, and while we were getting some protection from the wind, we would have 2-3 ft of swell on the beam, not at all comfortable.  We turned around and headed back into the NW corner of the anchorage where we’d been before.  There were 3 sailboats but plenty of room.  In this corner, the swell was still coming from the SE, but so was the wind, so we were bow into it.  Much more comfortable.  Later in the evening as the wind died down so did the swell.  The next morning we headed down to the Puerto Escondido area hoping to anchor right across from the marina at a place called Honeymoon Cove.  There was another boat in the main anchorage, tour boats in the north lobe, and I couldn’t find a spot that I was happy with, so we went on into the marina a day earlier than expected.

The main goal for coming back to Puerto Escondido was to make a trip over to the Pacific side to go whale watching in Magdalena Bay, one of the protected bays that is a “whale nursery” during the winter months, from a (different) town also called San Carlos.  We rented a car and left the Marina at dawn for the long trek across the Baja Peninsula on MX Highway 1, the main road serving Baja.  It is a two lane highway and well maintained for the most part, but it is fairly narrow and there are no shoulders… hence the many roadside shines to people who have died in traffic accidents.  The cows that frequent the sides of the roads at all times of day likely also contribute to accidents.  Just S of Puerto Escondido, the road climbs steep canyons to get over the Sierra Gigante Mountains and then straightens out over a long, flat plain towards the West coast. 

The village of Magdalena Bay from the water. It seems to us to have a few more buildings, including the yurts on the left, than when we were here in 2019.

Speed limits on Mexican highways are pretty conservative, Mexican drivers are not.  In many places the speed limit was 60 kilometers per hour, and at most 80.  I think 80 is the limit for any two lane highway in Mexico.  We were passed by all manner of vehicles as I made a rare attempt of complying with the posted speed limits.  We turned off highway 1 around Ciudad Constitución for the highway to San Carlos.  Around 9am we finally arrived at the little hotel and office in dusty San Carlos and were taken directly to our waiting panga and Captain Juan.  As we pulled out of San Carlos, everything was starting to look familiar.  We stopped at Magdalena Bay with the CUBAR rally in 2019 and did a big dinghy excursion to tour one of the estuaries in the area.  Captain Juan took us back to the main part of Magdalena Bay off the same town that we anchored in front of in 2019.

It was a beautiful day, sunny and pretty mild, with flat calm seas.  First we went by a spit with lots of birds, which made Gwen happy. Soon we started to see spouts and headed towards them.  They were Grey Whales, traveling singly or in pairs.  All were adults.  We’d approach the whales slowly as they swam along the surface and eventually, they would sound, showing their tail as they dived down.  When that happened, we knew that it could be a half hour before they surfaced possibly nearby… or not.  Over the next couple of hours, the whales were pretty actively working their way back and forth along the bay, and we would slowly follow along.  The captains were respectful, never approaching from ahead, and maintaining a reasonable distance from the whales.  At lunchtime we went ashore for lunch at the same beachside restaurant we visited with CUBAR. 

The kids from the Pueblo setting up the boarding ladder after lunch.

The enterprising village kids dragged over a wooden platform to the bow of the panga to make it easy for us to get off.  Gwen gave them a propina of a couple of pesos which the boy, at least, viewed with some disdain (she later found more coins and offered more on our return to the panga).  The kids offered to sell us shells but we were more interested in the Pacificos and fresh fish offered for lunch. 

We did another hour or so of whale watching after lunch, finishing with a pretty close encounter in which a large whale surfaced very close to the panga, swam alongside for a few minutes, and then sounded.  After that we headed back to San Carlos, just as the afternoon winds were picking up.  The panga pulled into a beach landing, but instead of climbing out, Juan had us stay in as they pulled it up onto a trailer, and we traveled overland by panga back to the car. 

On the long drive back from San Carlos I paid less attention to the speed limit signs and maintained what was still a stately pace by Mexican standards.  Eventually a large fuel truck approached close behind as we were getting to the twisty part of the highway.  I thought that I would be able to stay comfortably in front of the truck given the tight turns and steep descents.  I was wrong.  Even maintaining a speed of 100 kph, the fuel truck was bearing down on me.  I was having visions of Mad Max and all going down into a canyon in a ball of flames.  Sure enough, the truck passed me, and I was happy to let it go to menace some other unsuspecting gringo driver.

The graveyard outside of Ciudad Concepción. This is a typical one.

While we enjoyed the day on the water and the opportunity to view these magnificent creatures up close, we decided that we’ve had enough of whale watching trips.  I have to admit that I got interested in doing the trip after hearing from friends and reading a blog post about close encounters with grey whales including mothers and calves that actually approached the boats and allowed the passengers to touch them.  We had no such experiences and honestly it seemed that the whales in Mag Bay barely tolerated the pangas, never approaching, and sounding after a few minutes.  So rather than “oh the whales will come right up to us”, it was really, “we will follow the whales until they tire of us and sound”.  Honestly, we’ve had many fantastic experiences viewing whales from our own boat – Orcas in the Salish Sea, humpbacks bubble feeding in Alaska, and Grey whales popping up all around us as we approached San Francisco, and we’ve seen humpbacks several times here in the Sea.

San Carlos Area

Beginning of our passage day.
Approaching San Carlos, with the distinctive Tetas de Cabra in the distance.

We arrived at San Carlos in the state of Sonora on the mainland after a very pleasant, calm passage from Punta Chivato. We found our slip in Marina San Carlos and went up to the office to check in.  By late that night, a cold front was moving through and it started blowing hard.  We saw upwards of 34 kts in our slip, which happens aligned perfectly with a gap between the protective hills around the bay. 

The dip between the hills allowed strong winds to blow right at us.
The two derelict boats seem to be permanent fixtures – they are attached to mooring balls. The floating dock is populated by birds and gave a distinctive odor to our moorage when the wind wasn’t blowing 25 knots.

The wind stayed fierce until the next afternoon.  That was fine because it was a chore day on the boat.  I changed the oil and filters on the main engine and Gwen took the laundry in to the hotel and arranged for a boat wash for the next day.  The next morning, it was calm and sunny.  We had the boat washer at work – she is from Guaymas, the industrial city about 10 miles away, daughter of the captain of a shrimp boat and an incredibly efficient and hard worker.  We also found Francisco, the diver, to clean the bottom of the boat, which had been developing some shaggy green growth along the waterline.  As early afternoon came around, the winds started picking up again, and by mid afternoon we had whitecaps, 2 ft chop and 25+ knot winds again, coming right through the gap.  This was getting old!

The next day we decided to get down our folding bikes to ride around town a little bit and see what stores were best for provisioning.  We rode from the marina down the main drag of San Carlos which ran along the bay down the “Charly’s Rock”, a big rock formation that looms over the commercial strip.  We stopped at the Ley supermarket for some key items (big limes and butter) and found a wine and liquor store where we managed to get several bottles of wine and booze packed onto the rack of our bikes.  We also stopped at a bank for a reload of Pesos.  Once back at the boat we turned around and walked up to the nearest supermarket, just up the road from the marina with our folding wagon.  I made a side trip to the Modelorama store to pick up a case of Pacificos, having gotten over the annoyance with the tall, narrow cans.  Back with the groceries, and guess what?  The winds and waves were up again.  Our beautiful boat wash was being rapidly undone by salt spray down the back third of the boat.  We mounted the bicycles again and headed to the beach for lunch at Palapa Griega, which had an excellent menu featuring Greek and Mexican dishes.  We had a couple of cold beers, spanakopita, Gyro salad and coconut shrimp while enjoying a sunny afternoon on the beach.  

(A note on our restaurant going relative to COVID risk. We only go to outdoor seating restaurants – which for us means no walls to impede air flow. We also look at table spacing, and we don’t sit with others. Servers are masked and we wear our masks when not eating or drinking. In San Carlos – the wind was pretty much blowing 15 knots anytime we were at a restaurant so Gwen was confident that any aerosolized virus that could be around was blown away! )

We got back to the boat with the wind still howling.  I wrote an email to Shawn Breeding, one of the authors of our cruising guide, saying that his reports of wind in San Carlos was accurate, to say the least.  He wrote back saying that they used to refer to the winds as the “Afternoon gale”.  An apt description, which somehow did not make it into the guide.

From the walkway inside the marina.

Finally, on Friday morning we were ready to depart.  It was another sunny, mild morning.  After checking out of the Marina, we went over to the fuel dock to top up our tanks.  I have to say that this was the best run fuel dock we encountered in Mexico with two attendants that caught our lines and then took care of fueling the boat.  All we had to do was tell them how much in each tank.  Very efficient and easy for us!  Next we pulled out of the harbor and did a little tour of the bay in front of town. 

Circling around one of many Islets named “Los Candeleros” in the Bay in front of San Carlos.

Our next anchorage was Bahia San Pedro, some 12 miles North, but we needed to make a lot of water (the marina water was reported to be notoriously non-potable) on the way up.  We cruised by the beachfront palapa, viewed Charly’s rock from the water and made a lap around one of many “Los Candeleros” islets before heading North.  As we headed North, the winds, of course, picked up and we worked our way into head seas.  Lots of whitecaps but the waves were not too bad. As we pulled into the anchorage we saw winds as high as 25 knots on a day forecast at 10-15.  No problem setting the anchor – just let the chain out and the wind did the rest for us.

Tucked into the anchorage.

Our friends on Last Arrow and Gitana had also come to Bahia San Pedro but left at sunrise the next morning.  I was up to wish them fair seas (and less wind).  Waiting in the predawn darkness, I heard the howling of coyotes that were obviously on the beach.  Unfortunately, it was too dark to see them.  Overnight the temperature in the anchorage went up quite a bit.  It was 77 deg at 5 AM, I think due to warm air coming down from the land in gentle N breezes.  Later in the morning as the wind picked up from the NW the temperature went down about 15 degrees with the wind over the chilly (57 deg) waters of the Sea.

Sea cave in the bottom of the colorful cliffs with cacti and palm trees.
Gwen was excited to get a shot of this Hermann gull – breeds only here in the Sea.

We took a little dinghy tour of the anchorage, looking at the sea caves that formed in Roca San Pedro right at the point of the anchorage.  It was interesting to see Palm trees growing all over this large rock, in addition to the usual cactus.  We went ashore, where there were remnants of a fish camp, particularly several dumps of conch shells that I called Conch Cemeteries.  These shells seemed recent, retaining their sharp spines.  The beach was mostly gravel and finely ground stone, forming a crescent shape and surrounded by low hills.  It offered very good wave protection from the N and NW, but the winds funneled around either side of Roca San Pedro.  The holding was very good as confirmed by our couple of windy days and nights.  Morning sunrise over the hills was beautiful.

One of the many conch graveyards.

After a couple of nights we headed back down to Bahia Algodones which is just 3 miles away and around the corner from Marina San Carlos. We anchored right off the beach with the Soggy Peso restaurant and bar and the Sunset Grill and several hotels farther down.  This location is famous (at least in our cruising guides) for being the setting of the late 1960’s antiwar movie Catch 22 (based on the novel). We watched Catch-22 that evening while anchored in the bay (thanks to our “Curator” onboard entertainment system invented by our friend John.), and seeing the distinctive scenery was absolutely uncanny.  It was obvious that we were sitting right off the runway from the movie. The guidebooks talk about being able to visit the runway and see the remnants of the set, so we were excited to do that.

The Tetas de Cabra, or Tetakiwi mountains, are the signature view of this area. In Catch 22 there wasn’t a single sign of development and it appeared completely wild.

Overnight, a bit of wind and swell came in, enough to make it pretty uncomfortable even with the flopper stopper out, so we elected to brave the afternoon gales in Marina San Carlos again.  The next day we rented a car to have lunch and look for the runway and ruins.  We drove over to Bahia Algodones and had lunch at the outside Sunset Grill. We asked the waitstaff at Sunset Grill about the Catch 22 movie site, but they knew nothing of it at all.  And we can see why. Everything on both sides of the road is fenced off and there are various bits of development happening or not happening in that typical Mexican way.  We backtracked and finally found a dirt road off the highway that was going to a ranch that offered horseback riding.  We took that road and veered off onto another that eventually crossed the runway.  We found the asphalt still intact in some places but clearly being overtaken by the scrub.  There were no structures whatsoever left.

Runway looking toward the water.
End of the runway looking to the hills.

The construction going on at the south end of Bahia Algodones is astonishing. The other marina (Marina Real) is completely surrounded by houses/condos, and the road up to the scenic viewpoint is full of construction on both sides, all apparently speculative based on big “Se Vende” sale signs in front of them.  The hills around Caleta Lalo have been carved and flattened for homesites, and  there was a private breakwater and pilings in the NW corner.  You’d think the entire US is moving to San Carlos.  Anyway, we enjoyed exploring the area in the rental car, and shockingly enough, we actually experienced a (single) calm day in the marina.

Caleta Lalo with new mansion and private dock.

San Carlos is obviously a resort town with a significant population of Gringo expats only 300 miles from the Arizona border, but also appears to be growing in popularity as a destination for Mexican tourists. It was established in 1963, and is only some 20 miles from the gritty port town of Guaymas. We actually drove into Guaymas for a look around (and some provisioning) but did not find it very interesting.

Next, we head back over to the Baja side looking for warmer weather!

Punta Chivato

The weather reports were finally showing an opening for crossing over to the mainland side of the Sea of Cortez, where we wanted to visit the San Carlos area.  It looked like Monday would be a good day to cross, and we decided to head up to Punta Chivato, North of the town of Mulegé, to jump off.  We departed on a sunny Saturday morning.  The North winds were about 10 knots creating a little bit of chop for the 24 miles out of Bahía Concepción and across Bahía Santa Inez. 

Punta Chivato has a very long beach with a significant number of houses, an airport for small planes, and what looks like an abandoned hotel (more on that later).  When we arrived there were 4 other boats in the anchorage, but there was plenty of room off the beach in good depths.  The wind, as one might expect by now, kicked up after we arrived.  The anchorage has wave protection from the North and some wind protection, and has excellent holding.

When the wind died down we went in to the beach, which had a huge number of shells spread along its length. There were so many piled up it was like “shell dunes”. The entire area out to the Islas Santa Inez a couple of miles offshore is very shallow, so this must have been a great place for shellfish at some point in time. All of the shells did look very old and worn.

Highlights of the shells on the beach.

Sunday turned out to be a bit milder than Saturday.  In the morning a fisherman and his two sons came by in a panga and offered fresh fish.  We bought a small (6 lb) halibut and they filleted it up for us.  It turned into some very tasty fish tacos later that evening.  They also had a good sized Pargo (snapper) and some lobsters, but we passed on those. We paid in Pesos, cans of coke, and a bag of chips – the dad was hungry.

Fresh fish delivery right to the transom!

Later, we went for a walk on the beach where we met some fellow Gringos from Oregon staying in one of the nice houses up in the sand dunes.  They had been down here since November and commented on what a cold and windy winter it has been. We then took a little dinghy tour around the anchorage and looked at what must have been a very fancy hotel right on the point.  Our guidebook said it was the hotel Posada de los Flores and a great place to go for a sunset drink on the stone patio overlooking the anchorage. Well, the stone patio was still there but the hotel is out of business and obviously abandoned.

Very sad – clearly the weather is taking a toll quickly.

While sitting in the cockpit, we were amused watching large flocks of our favorite bird the lesser grebe as they popped up en masse, then suddenly would dive down again. Not clear what their signal is but they all disappear in just 2 to 3 seconds!

Just surfaced…
Dive! dive!
Almost gone…
Just a few stragglers.

We were up before dawn the next morning, ready for a departure at first light.  The weather was beautiful – calm winds and flat seas with sunshine almost the whole way.  The 9 hour, 72 mile crossing was uneventful – the kind we really like!  Next up is our visit to the San Carlos area on the mainland side of the sea.

Bahía Concepción

After spending 4 nights at San Juanico exploring the beautiful bay and surrounding areas (and waiting out yet another Norther) we pulled out on a sunny, calm Sunday morning to head North 55 miles to the many anchorages inside Bahia Concepcion, a 24 mile long, 3 mile wide bay just south of the town of Mulegé and the 27th Parallel.  We rounded Point Concepción after an uneventful trip and were planning to anchor at a spot called Playa Santo Domingo, just inside the NE corner of the bay, and across from Mulegé.  We were told that there was good cell signal there and we figured we’d spend the night catching up on internet.  However, as we were rounding the point, the winds were picking up, and by the time we reached Santa Domingo, the wind was at 20 knots and there were whitecaps and good little swells in this poorly protected anchorage.  We elected to continue on down the bay.  The wind was, for the first time of the season, coming out of the South, so we proceeded to a lovely bay called Playa Santa Barbara, our first S wind anchorage in the Sea of Cortez.  We were alone in the anchorage.  There was a camper and some fancy yurts set back from the beach, but none were occupied.

Mangroves and a heron at the tip of Gwen’s kayak.
First time we had seen the magnificant frigatebird in a long time

The next morning we kayaked around the entire anchorage, exploring the rocky shore on the E side, the mud flats and mangroves at the head of the bay, the estuary on the W side, and at the NW corner of the bay, a pearl culturing setup consisting of a 55 gallon drum float at one end of a line and steel mesh bags containing small oysters.  We didn’t find the sunken sailboat that was reported to be in the anchorage and wound up not having a good chance to look for it.

Later we took the dinghy a few miles over to Playa Coyote in search of a tienda and avocados.  We found the tienda, but no avocados as they weren’t stocking any fresh stuff because of lack of people to buy it.   We did enjoy a very nice meal of chili rellenos con camarones with rice and beans (and a couple of Pacificos, of course) at their outdoor restaurant, homemade just for us as the only people there.

Playa Coyote
This anchor was in the shallows we waded through to get back to our dingy after lunch.

That afternoon, I started noticing swell rolling into the anchorage.  I was surprised, as the wind was light and the forecast was for continued light winds overnight.  It was just about cocktail hour and I had already prepared our libations… but the swell was getting larger, and looking North, I could see whitecaps.  We decided to move.  Because this was a S wind anchorage, it was completely exposed to winds from the North.  As we were exiting the bay, the winds climbed up into the 15-20 knot range, which would have made for an unpleasant night indeed.  We moved a couple of miles up to a spot called Posada Concepcion in the NW corner of the larger bay.  There were colorful houses along the beach and up on the cliffs, and Highway 1 runs right beside the bay in this area.

Lining the hills above the anchorage.
This house in particular surprised us with the whole skeleton!

The next bay over from us is called Playa Santispac, and a couple of other Nordhavns we know from last season were anchored in there, along with a couple of sailboats.  This offers the best protection from the North winds that came every afternoon for the week we were there.  There is a palapa on the beach that has good food  – we had some tasty breakfast pastries – and internet service by the hour.  It serves an RV park that is nearly empty and the normally crowded anchorage.  Our friends on Gitana and Last Arrow told us that the beach was full of RVs at this time last year, mostly Canadians that didn’t make the trip down this year.

At anchor in Posada Concepcion. You may notice that both the burgee and Mexican courtesy flag are wrapped… to keep the noise down and preserve a good night’s sleep in the windy weather.
The long beach usually occupied by rows of RVs. The yellow building is Ana’s Restaurant Palapa.
Many sections of beach had structures like this for campers to set up in. In the entire bay probably 20% were occupied.

Right in front of where we were anchored was an island that the birds clearly felt was a good nesting spot, and was frequented by locals who were fishing and diving off their kayaks.  One man showed us the fish he was catching and said the name in Spanish which we didn’t understand. I thought it was a triggerfish.  He said it was good for ceviche and other dishes.  A reef just beyond it might be a good snorkeling spot, but the water is still too cool for that (for us anyway). 

Cool rock formations covered in guano.
The far end of the small island, our view from the boat.
The pelicans were clearly using this area as a bird bath and grooming area. The hillside was populated with what appeared to be nesting pelicans and the sound of birds we could not see.
Gwen just loves the green water contrast with the rocks.

On another day we spent a few hours on our own “private” beach searching for shells and soaking up some sun while the wind was down. 

The best of the shells Gwen found.

We ended up spending about a week of windy and somewhat chilly days here.  It’s a beautiful spot, and we actually feel lucky to have been here without the usual crowds.  We are sure there is a very different feel to it when beaches are packed with RVs and the anchorages with boats. 

Editors note: Gwen provides nearly all of the photos for the blog and the strain and pressure of our rigorous production schedule are getting to her. She recently suggested that we should reduce the posting frequency on the blog! So, if you love Gwen’s pics and posts, please comment and send her some love.

San Juanico

This is our favorite spot so far.  We headed up to this large bay after the night at Isla Coronados near Loreto.  We were still looking for good protection from north winds, so our goal was to anchor in the northern side of this large bay, in between several interesting rock formations. 

Between us and the beach at sunset
Between us and the Sea.
Windswept sandstone near the beach

When we arrived there was one other boat, a sailing catamaran with a family with two little girls on board and it remained our two boats for almost the four days we stayed there.  We got to know them a bit during our stay here.  It was great to see small children for the first time in a long time!

Looking over the anchorage from the hill. We are the tiny right hand boat.

We tried landing our dingy for some exploration first in one area that turned out to be too shallow – we would have had to anchor the dingy a quarter mile out and wade in because of the long shallow run out.  The next area had too much surf going to land our full size dingy, so we ended up on the beach across from the boat and underneath a large home built on the cliff. 

Larry determined to enjoy happy hour despite the chilly breeze.
Fading light to the west side of the bay.

A trail led off to the other side of the island where there is a small bay that is open to the north with a beautiful beach. 

On our walk over to check out the other side, we met a Mexican gentleman in a pickup truck who told us he has a small ranch with goats and vegetables nearby.  His passenger was from the house, an American guy named Eric.  We later found out that Eric is a videographer hired by the owner of the large house on the cliff (and all the surrounding area one can see in the bay) to document the area.  Fortunately, the owner, a tech guy who apparently made his money in online poker, has decided against developing this area into a resort and is instead donating it to be preserved by a non-profit organization. 

The extensive home on the hill overlooking the bay.

The next day we dingied into shore and set the anchor about 25 feet out to avoid having a beached dingy when we returned.  Our anchor buddy is getting worn out so we can’t be guaranteed that it’s working anymore to hold us off the beach.  We shuffled our feet through the water to shore – there were numerous divots in the sand which could make you stumble, but more importantly we realized they were made by sting rays.  If you step on a sting ray and surprise it, it might sting you which hurts a lot.  So shuffling is the way to alert them to your presence. 

The beach here is a popular camping area.  Highway 1 passes by about 7 miles away and then a dirt road leads here.   Three sites were occupied when we walked by – we met some of the campers – one American couple in a popup trailer who had been in Mexico for months, another solo young guy in a small tent whose father who had just arrived from Alaska for his annual visit and sunburn – he had gotten the coronavirus vaccine already.   Someone had even cleared the beach of all the rocks, leaving them in neat piles and a resulting soft white sand beach.  We found the dirt road and headed off inland. 

Dusty road leading to the ranch.

After a while of walking through the dusty cactus strewn landscape we came over a rise and saw a tall orange lamppost on the left side of the road.  Totally incongruous on the dirt road. 

The single lamppost in the middle of nowhere!

Across from it was a small house marked with white painted boulders, a large chicken coop and fenced areas.  We guessed this was Jose’s ranch.  We introduced ourselves to the two men sitting on the patio and one of them took us out back to see the vegetable plots.  3 large raised beds were shaded by a fabric sunshade and full of lush green vegetables.  It was almost disconcerting to see such rich greenness after so much dust and brown.  He pulled up spring onions, beets, chard, lettuce and other goodies for us.  The goats weren’t around but we were able to buy a kilo of fresh goat cheese too.  It was creamy, mild and salty – best thing we had tasted in weeks! 

The entrance to the ranch.
The vegetable beds.
A very proud turkey.

We stayed here for 4 nights before continuing on our way north.  We will definitely return.  There are a number of other areas to explore when the wind is lower and the water warm enough for snorkeling. 

A group of horses meandering on the beach across from us at dusk.

Puerto Ballandra and Isla Coronados

We left Puerto Escondido the morning after the big Norther turned out to be nothing much, at least at Marina Puerto Escondido.  Over the course of the morning, the winds came up a bit and by the time we left they were around 15 knots from the N.  Not a problem for us.  Our run for the day was a short two hours to Puerto Ballandra on Isla Carmen, which was reported to have good North wind and wave protection.  We planned to sit out the next Norther there, due in a couple of days.  

Coming out of Puerto Escondido and turning N into the channel between Isla Danzante and Isla Carmen we could see that the seas had been raised a bit by the presumably stronger winds farther north, but wind speeds were still low at around 10 knots or so.  Things started picking up after an hour or so into the middle of the channel.  The winds were now more in the 15 knot range, we were starting to see whitecaps on the waves and the seas were building into at least the 5-7 ft range.  Soon it started to feel like practice for the Baja bash, with the boat pitching into the occasionally large waves.  We had a few instances of “bow slap”, where the bulbous bow on the boat comes out of the water and then slams back in.  It’s quite noisy but otherwise harmless.  We were taking lots of spray and were very happy that we had invested in interval wipers.  They got a workout keeping the salt water off the pilot house forward windows.  At the very end it got quite sporty, with the winds exceeding 20 knots and lots of wind waves on top of the swell.  We were happy to pull into Puerto Ballandra, which was indeed well protected from the swell.  

Looking out the entrance from inside Puerto Ballandra anchorage.

A couple of weather lessons learned for me were: 1) If there is a Norther in the Sea, even if your local area is unaffected, it is going to create some swell.  2) With the fetch, 15-20 knot winds will cause the seas to build quickly.  Nothing that we experienced was remotely close to dangerous and was not even uncomfortable.  However, the motion did cause Gwen to have a mild bout of seasickness – enough to have her hang out in the salon where there was less motion. She had made the mistake of reading while underway while it was rough.   Our goal is really to avoid even conditions like this.  I think we may have been a touch too eager to get off the dock.

There were two sailboats tucked into the N end of the bay when we arrived but we had enough room to get into the NW corner next to them.  The bay has excellent protection from waves, but not so much from the winds, which funnel right down the hills to the North.  We hardly needed to back down on the anchor – the 20+ knots of wind did it for us.  It looked like we were catching the Norther a day late.  We saw 25+ knot winds in the anchorage for several hours.  We were also experiencing some rolling from swell wrapping around the point.  When the wind died down a bit we decided to put out the flopper stopper and got it almost ready to drop in the water when, yes, the winds kicked back up.  We pulled it back in, untangled the lines and got it dropped quickly in the next calm period.  Things were all comfy after that.

Alone in the anchorage, for a while.

The next morning the two sailboats that we shared the anchorage left and we decided to move to a better position at the head of the bay.  Of course by this time the winds and a tiny bit of swell were coming from the SW so we knew we would need to reset the anchor again before the next Norther kicked in on Sunday.  After getting set we had a lazy day exploring in the dinghy, reading, having a “Bloody Michelada” with lunch, playing a bit with fishing gear and Gwen going for a late afternoon kayak.  It was a bit cool and cloudy in the morning (by Mexico standards) but the sun came out in the afternoon.  

Because this area is so close to Loreto, it has clearly been quite picked over for shells. The few we found on the beach were quite aged, along with a fair amount of dead coral. There are some good shallow rocky areas that are supposed to be good for snorkeling – perhaps we will try them on our way back down in a month or two. We didn’t walk deeper into the island – there are big horn sheep and an active hunting lodge nearby, and a very marshy swampy area between the beach and the hills.

We were able to join the monthly Nordhavn 50 owners call.  We had enough cell signal from Loreto across the way to join the Zoom video call. 

After a peaceful night we began preparing for the Norther, bringing the dinghy and kayak back on board and resetting the anchor with more than enough scope for the expected winds.   

Speaking of resetting the anchor, I’d like to touch on the topic of Anchoring Etiquette.  Do a google search and you will find many articles on anchoring etiquette, that is, how to safely share an anchorage with your fellow boaters.  The general rule of thumb is that the first boat into an anchorage deploys their anchor as they see fit and other boats have the responsibility to anchor such that they do not collide with that first boat.  It is often not as straightforward as it sounds as you are trying to optimize depth and protection from the prevailing conditions.  It gets more complicated – power boats tend to swing differently than sailboats, and how much your boat swings depends on how much and what type of anchor rode you put out.   I’d like to propose a corollary to the general rule of thumb.  Please don’t anchor immediately upwind of me when we are expecting a Norther. 

The chartered catamaran anchoring on top of our anchor.

Some time after we reset the anchor another boat came into the anchorage and came by to ask how much chain we had out.  It was very good form for them to ask, and we told them how much chain we had out and that there was good holding off our starboard side.  What did they do?  Anchored directly in front of us.  Now the winds had picked up a bit, but were nowhere near the 30 knots we would see later in the day.  If they dragged anchor, they would be right on top of this.  I got on the hailer and expressed my concern telling them that I hoped they were well set because they were right on top of our anchor and would tangle with us if they dragged.  Eventually they called us back and after some discussion moved over to a (perfectly fine) spot to the west of us.

We happily settled in for lunch when another boat came into the anchorage.  This was a boat that was in the anchorage when we arrived but then left.  They, too, dropped right in front of us, even though there was room on our starboard side.  They realized that they were too close and moved, but then came back… splitting the distance between us and the sailboat that had come in earlier.  At least in this case, if they dragged, they would slide between us.  They came by for a visit by dinghy later and we learned that they were accomplished sailors, having come over from Europe via the Pacific and had been out cruising for 9 years.  That gave us confidence that they knew how to anchor their boat securely.  It seems to me that coming into an anchorage, particularly in windy conditions, the best thing to do would be to drop your anchor perhaps even with the boats nearby, and then fall back behind them as you let out your rode.  This way, you swing clear and don’t have to worry about dragging back on your neighbors.

We all sat through about 48 hours of the Norther, with winds up to 33 knots and swell coming into the anchorage and breaking on the beach.  When it finally settled down on Tuesday morning, we all cleared out of the anchorage, with us heading for Isla Coronados, an extinct Volcano only 8 miles north of Puerto Ballandra.  There was still some residual swell left from the Norther and the winds were up into the 10-15 knot range.  Apparently my memory for lessons learned is short.

Picture perfect west side anchorage. There were a number of pangas bringing tourists in for day trips.

The main anchorage at Isla Coranados is on the West side of the Island, with a big white sand beach North of a long sandspit and a small Islet to the West.  The other anchorage is South of the sandspit in the shadow of the 900+ foot volcanic cone.  We approached from the South and went around to the main anchorage though the narrow and shallow pass between the sandspit and the Islet.  It was exciting in the choppy conditions and heading over to the anchorage, it was clear that we would have no shelter.  So around back to the South side where we anchored in 25 ft of crystal clear water below a low bluff.  The anchorage was open, so was exposed to swell wrapping around the point.  Out went the flopper stopper again to smooth things out.  It was blowing about 15-20 here for a while before things calmed down in the evening.  We did spend a pleasant afternoon on the beach and Gwen explored the paths that are part of the park system.

There are beautifully laid out paths all through the area.

We went to sleep with the lights of Loreto to the SW, and woke up in the morning seeing the fishing fleet working the dropoff just to the south of the anchorage.  We decided that this was not the place to ride out the next norther, so got ready to head on up to San Juanico.  It was very cool picking up the anchor in the crystal clear water.  We could clearly see the chain laid in a nice straight line along the bottom, and as we retrieved it we could see where the anchor had buried itself deeply in the sand, with only the shank visible.  It was reassuring to see how well the anchor dug itself in!

Loreto

Loreto is one of the oldest towns on the Baja Peninsula.  The indigenous people thrived in this area for thousands of years – the Loreto area is considered to be the oldest human settlement on Baja.   Spanish missionaries and Jesuits arrived in the late 1600s and established the first mission of the Californias here.  Not many years later, they realized they needed a better water supply and agricultural capabilities, so the mission was moved into the hills about 20 miles away. 

Municipal building anchoring one end of the town square.

Loreto served as the capital of the Baja region until there was a major storm in 1829 and the capitol was moved to La Paz.  There is a very small marina in the town that handles pangas and other small fishing boats but is not equipped for larger size vessels, which is why Puerto Escondido has become the focal marina in the region.    

In the 20th century this town was refashioned into a tourist haven, and is very popular with American and Canadian tourists and ex-pats.  We rented a car for two days from the marina in order to hit the grocery stores and farmer’s market for provisions and to do an excursion into the hills to see the Misión San Francisco Javier. 

Namesake of our destination mission in the hills.

We drove the 14 miles along the well-paved highway passing a few resort communities and a lot of land marked private for a ranch.  Once we entered town we got the lay of the land and scoped out where the grocery stores were before parking and walking to the town square area.  There are obviously a lot of restaurants and shops with tourist goods.  We were struck by how few people were around in the middle of Saturday morning.  It is clear the pandemic has almost completely closed down the tourist business here.  Unfortunately, most of the few tourists we did see were maskless, despite the Baja-wide mandate to wear masks. 

The street in front of the Misión Nuestra Señora de Loreto in the middle of town was all torn up, so we weren’t getting close to it.  There is a Malecon on the water which is reportedly good for strolling, but each day we passed by it, we were struck by a strong odor of waste so it wasn’t very appealing.  This must be unusual. 

Town square photos taken mid-day on Saturday – you can see the notable lack of people!

The town square has many shaded benches for relaxing.  We got fish tacos from the King of Tacos and took them to the square to eat.  They were absolutely fantastic! 

El Rey means the King. This is worth a stop!

We hit both of the grocery stores and a small delicatessen styled store with gringo favorites like cheddar cheese and real crackers.  I had a nice conversation with the owner.  She asked if I had left my husband in the car and I said yes, we were minimizing how much we went into stores if not needed because of COVID. This led her to thank me for being so careful, and to talk about how scary it was for them because they (Mexican citizens) have to take care of themselves, they cannot rely on the healthcare system, and it is a very scary time.  She wanted to know if I was going to get the vaccine (yes, for sure).  She had heard that possibly by May she might be able to get one but wasn’t confident in how the government was rolling out the vaccine.     

One of the nicely shaded streets with tourist shops.

The next day our plan was to stop by the Sunday farmer’s market in the town square and then head to the hills.  Unfortunately, it was clear as we approached the square that morning that there was nothing going on.  An attendant in front of the town offices explained that because of the pandemic the market was only held every few weeks. 

Vista from the drive – looking out to the Sea.

So, while disappointed and knowing we had to make a future grocery run to stock up on produce, we continued on the drive up into the hills to the Misión San Francisco Javier.  The drive is stunning – winding roads, parts of which have some guardrails, other times not.  There are beautiful canyons with lush greenery in the arroyo beds, and some lookouts with views out to the Sea. 

There were many shrines to accident victims, like this one, along the road.

On the way into the little town of the Misión, we passed what we believed to be a pilgrim fast-walking his way toward town, followed very slowly by a woman in a car.  They appeared at the church a little while after we arrived.  As happened in many areas where the Spanish settled missions, most of the population died from disease, so both the town and the Misión were abandoned.   Both have since been restored and rejuvenated as a destination site.   Services are held at the Misión but it appears it is not otherwise open to the public currently. 

Behind the church are the grounds where the monks raised crops and built aqueducts to manage water which comes from a spring.  They made wine, and there was a guy on site with locally made wine to try.  Larry wanted to support and buy some, but we just found it not at all to our taste.  We believe it was his son who served as our “tour” guide to the 300-year-old olive tree, so I tipped him an enormous amount instead. 

The 300 year old olive tree planted by the missionaries. Photos above are the aqueducts and view of the cultivated fields.

There were a smattering of other people visiting the area too, but overall it was very quiet.  We were able to have lunch at an outdoor table before heading back down the twisty highway for another round of provisioning before returning to Marina Puerto Escondido.     

One of the numerous luscious lemon trees. None were within arms reach for picking!

Darth Vader Lives in our Head

When you hear the words Darth Vader, what do you think of?  The wheezing, mechanical, sounds like he’s in scuba gear breathing, right?  That’s what I think of, anyway.  Now, what would you think if you heard that sound coming from the forward head?  OK, maybe now you understand the title.  This is a post about all of the noises on the boat that can drive you crazy as you are trying to sleep in some remote anchorage.  

We are all sensitive to novel sounds.  On a boat it is important to pay attention to any unusual sounds, which can be warning signs for problems.  And when it is a windy night in the anchorage, we tend to be even more alert.  

The Darth Vader breath, as it turns out, comes from the sink drain in the head (nautical for bathroom).  There is a hose from the drain that goes to a thru hull to drain overboard, right near or even below the water line.  When it is rocking in the anchorage, the bow of the boat pitches up and down and air gets sucked down the drain and then pumped back out, making a very distinct wheezing sound.  We have plugs that we put in the drain that prevents Darth from breathing, but if it is really rolly, they pop right out.  Our friend Ron from Duet asks incredulously “why don’t you just close the through hull valve?”.  Of course we could do that, but then we fill the sink when we wash our hands and have the potential for sloshing water around.  So it’s usually jam in the drain plug and close the door.  

The forward head sink on a rolly night.

Last year when we were coming down the coast we got very good at eliminating all sources of banging, whacking, knocking, and clunking as there is nothing like a Pacific Ocean passage to expose all areas with laxity.  Ask any boater and you will hear a long list of solutions for the bangs and rattles that can happen both underway and at anchor.  Just the other night our friend Penny revealed her ultimate weapon – blow up beach balls.  Easy to store when empty and can be inflated to just the right size.  We have a very large collection of nerf-like footballs and basketballs that Gwen searched around Brookings Oregon to find after our first multi-night noisy passage.  

The usual suspects are easy.  All cabinets and drawers latch, yet we are often lax with securing them properly.  The bang, bang, bang synchronous with the waves is easy to track down.  More problematic are those less frequent thumps that only happen when things really move in a certain direction.  Since we returned to Mexico and have been anchoring again, we have been experiencing one of those slow rolling thunks, usually when trying to take a nap during a storm because there is nothing else to do!  This one sounded like it was coming from directly over Gwen’s side of our berth (bed in nautical lingo) and was obviously driving her nuts.  This is a bit unusual as I am typically the one driven to distraction by these things.  She had searched on multiple days to find it, and her most recent supposition was that the muffler guys had left a piece in the muffler stack (which does go right through the area near the thunking sound).   

Last night she suddenly announced, “I found it!”  Jubilantly, she reported that the culprit was a tequila bottle that was leaning back and forth against other bottles in the liquor cabinet when the boat rolled at just the right angle.  When we are on passage, we wrap the liquor bottles with that rubber cabinet liner material, but when we are coastal cruising, it is of utmost importance to have unfettered access to the booze.  I think this problem will soon be solved by emptying the offending bottle.  

Our current checklist for a sound night’s sleep at anchor:  

  1.  A well-set anchor
  2. Bridle to take strain off the anchor has chafing protection to cut down on noise
  3. Burgees and flags are all restrained
  4. Horn pump is off – this has the nasty habit of repressurizing with a very loud pump at 1 in the morning
  5. VHF radios are OFF
  6. Doors are secured
  7. Bow of dingy is tied to back of boat securely but far enough away so it doesn’t bang the boat (or it’s stowed up top)
  8. New addition – cushion the liquor bottles

Puerto Escondido

After about 10 days on the hook, knowing there were a series of norther windstorms coming up, we headed from Agua Verde to the protected marina and anchorage area known as Puerto Escondido – or Hidden Harbor.  We had planned to stay here last year and had placed a deposit on a month’s moorage for last April but didn’t get to use it, so we hoped they were still going to honor it.   

This is an unusual area in that it is a basin protected on nearly all sides by land formations.  On the west side there are the tall Sierra de la Gigante mountains, on the north side there are a couple of small islands that have land bridges between them that form “windows” to the north, so the bay and marina are protected from north swell but not from the wind, and other land rims the rest, except for a small opening to the south.   John Steinbeck came here on his travels in 1940 and described the variety of marine animal life in the bay and also how he and his companions were taken into the hills for a big-horn sheep hunting expedition.  He found it more enjoyable to sit in the sun than to actually shoot anything and loved looking at the landscape. 

A view of the marina, roads and mooring ball field.

This has long been an anchorage with a very large basin with mooring balls that could easily hold 80 or more boats, and in recent years there has been a concerted effort to build a very nice marina, called Marina Puerto Escondido.  Since the late 1990’s there have been several efforts to build out luxury homes, complete with wide cement streets and sidewalks laid out prior to 2008, but at this point there are only two homes, and it’s not clear to us that this would really be a favored place to have a home, since it is 14 miles away from the town of Loreto and there isn’t beach nearby. 

The marina staff are all wonderful and the most helpful of any marina we have been at in Mexico.  There was a bit of confusion as we pulled into the marina though, and tried to go to our assigned slip, only to find it was occupied, then to be told to go to a different slip and then were waved off that one because they realized we were definitely too big for it.  In the end we were placed on the outside of the breakwater for the marina, which put the north side and the entire bay on our port side.  This became important the next day as the predicted norther came in with strong winds and the resultant wind powered chop that started slamming us against the cement dock.  We spent a lot of time monitoring the boat movement, ended up putting out all 13 fenders that we own on the starboard side and had a noisy and rocky night.  In the end no damage, and the marina folks moved us to the inside of the breakwater where it felt like we were in a different marina for the rest of our time, and a couple more northers. 

The marina has all the amenities one could need – very nice bathrooms and showers, a laundry facility – which does not have hot water, but the machines worked – and a restaurant with good pizza that is apparently expanding their menu slowly under new management.  There is a shop with the MOST expensive beer you will ever buy as well as high end supplies for the gringo crowd, a fuel dock, and they do in-slip pumpout, although we were told for larger boats it didn’t work well.  There are also some charter fishing boats based here.

View of the marina from the upstairs level.

Coincidentally, there were 8 other Nordhavn boats in the marina while we were there, so we got a chance to see several fellow owners that we know and to meet some new folks, appropriately distanced, of course, which was great.  The marina was not full, and when we dingy toured around the anchorage one evening we realized that the majority of the 40 or so boats on mooring balls were there for storage –almost all sailboats, with their decks clear and all sails removed, no signs of life.  The pandemic has taken a toll on the usual business of this area.

Helpful trail map on boulder.

One of the benefits of the area is the meticulously laid out and maintained trail system up into the hills overlooking the harbor and out into the Sea.  The creation of this was led by a previous long-time expat resident who was a vigorous and devoted hiker.  We did a couple of the trails – the first time slipping and sliding some on the loose rock, so the next time we broke out the hiking boots.  We do beg to differ with the published description of these as being “easy” hikes, but they are worth the effort for some magnificent views from the ridges. 

Looking out to the Sea and nearby Isla Danzante from the ridgeline.

On my birthday we ran into this pair of young burros in the scrub brush.  Later on, we learned from a guard that the burros were originally part of a threesome owned by a local, but one of them died, and they are going to be sold in May. 

They were so sweet and clearly hoping for a snack, which I didn’t have.

When we weren’t feeling up to the vertical climb of 650 feet in half a kilometer for the hill hikes, we walked the perimeter of the area, which included the Marina Rescate (think Coast Guard) dock and building.   

The marina makes it easy to rent a car for $35 a day, so we also spent two days exploring Loreto and some nearby sites, which will be in our next post!