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!

3 thoughts on “San Carlos Area”

  1. I love the sea cave photo. We use to see those abandoned developments when we drove to the coast from Antigua. They always had grand entrances and then maybe the beginning of couple of houses and then nothing. They always had a kind of creepy feel. Miss you guys! xo

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