Posted by John
Sea of Cortez
If you look at a map of the space between Baja California and the mainland of Mexico it will be called the Gulf of California. Yet, everyone I’ve ever known who has been there calls it the Sea of Cortez. I’ve tried to look up why this is, but no one seems to know exactly. Apparently it is one of those instances where there’s a disagreement between the “geographic-name committee” and popular usage.
The Baja Ha-Ha officially ended the same way it began—in a parking lot. During the course of the evening, every boat was called out to come forward and accept whatever prize it had been awarded. It was Saturday night. A few boats had already left for their next destination. Some boats were turning around in a day or two to go back north. Some crew members were going to the airport to head home and go back to work. Some boats were continuing on to Mazatlan or Puerto Vallarta, and some boats were heading up to La Paz. We were planning to leave for La Paz in the morning. I had been there once before on a scuba diving trip 27 years ago and wanted to explore the islands around there some more.
We decided to go ahead and buy fuel in Cabo, and we were pleasantly surprised to learn that not only did Ha-Ha boats not get charged the dockage fee, but we were also given a discount on the price of diesel. The benefits of the Baja Ha-Ha continue. However, we did have to pay for water.
As nice as Cabo was, being anchored out was difficult. The anchorage area was not only choppy from boats and jet skis, but it was also rolly with swells. The conditions and distance to the dinghy dock in the inner harbor meant that most people relied on water taxis to and from shore instead of their own dinghies. The going rate was five dollars per person, one way, with a three person minimum. For the three of us, one trip to shore and back was thirty dollars. That adds up quickly.
Those who had requested slips in the marina learned that a “slip” often meant being rafted with several other boats. The boats on the inside had people from the outer boats always climbing over them. For those of us in the anchorage, it was especially difficult to transfer from our own rolling boats to the rolling and bobbing water taxis. Some water taxi drivers were more experienced than others at this. After the final event in the parking lot, we could only find one water taxi driver willing to take those of us needing a ride back out in the dark to try to find each of our boats. The process was not easy, especially with the language barrier making, “I think it’s that one over there, no, maybe it’s that one there,” difficult to communicate.
The plan was for us to leave with “Slainte” and make a relatively quick trip around the bottom of Baja and up the inside to Bahia Los Frailes where we could anchor and spend the night. But it was slow going. The wind was strong from the north, right on the nose, and the seas were much bigger than we expected. At times we were lucky to be making headway at two knots over the ground. It quickly became apparent that we would not make it in daylight, but we continued on anyway. We really didn’t have a choice.
Los Frailes has a big, rocky hill which provides shelter from the north wind. The swells, however, were coming from the south. I don’t like anchoring in the dark in places I’m not familiar with, especially when I can see that there are unlit boats already there. It’s hard to judge distances in the dark. We had a big, bright supermoon to give us some light, but we suspect that that moon also caused an exceptionally strong tidal current which we fought all day and was the reason we didn’t make it until after dark. We spent the next 36 hours anchored behind those rocks hoping for the conditions to improve.
That unplanned day at anchor gave us some time to read up on what others had written about the trip from Cabo to La Paz. One book we have insists that the Sea of Cortez has no swells of its own, but that ocean swells from the north refract around the south end of Baja and travel up the inside as far north as Los Frailes. That was encouraging, since we were at Los Frailes.
After getting a weather report in the morning from the Sonrisa ham radio net, and with slip reservations waiting for us at Marina de La Paz, we decided to go on to our next planned stop in Bahia de Los Muertos. Again, the wind was fairly strong, and right on the nose, but the swells did eventually subside and the seas flatten out. We arrived at Los Muertos after dark once again. As before, we were anchoring in unfamiliar territory with the sound of crashing surf just ahead in the dark. Beach bonfires helped to make the experience a little spooky. The moon was just breaking over the horizon as we set our anchor, but our anchor windlass has been experiencing a clutch slippage problem which seems to be getting worse, especially when it gets sprayed with a lot of saltwater, as it had been since leaving Cabo. At one point, while testing the anchor set, the clutch gave way and chain starting going out in free-fall with no easy way to stop it. When we did get it stopped, we pulled the extra chain back in, but we were too close to “Slainte,” who had gotten there and anchored ahead of us. We struggled with the slipping clutch to re-anchor, and then we tied on chain snubbers and an extra safety line just to be sure. I had already all but destroyed the windlass chain lock back in Bahia Santa Maria on the way to Cabo.
After conferring with “Slainte,” we tentatively agreed to try for a 4 AM departure to beat the tidal current, but made no commitment to do so. We were tired and a little worried about the anchor windlass. It needed to be taken apart and cleaned. However, I spontaneously woke up at 2:58 AM and did not go back to sleep. I took this as meaning that we should go. We would’ve been right there with “Slainte” when they departed, but they jumped the gun a little, leaving closer to 3:30 than 4:00. We still had to start and warm up the engine, and then had some trouble getting the anchor up with the slipping clutch. However, after that, we had a totally uneventful day. We made it all the way into Marina de La Paz by mid-afternoon. We never did see Bahia de Los Muertos in daylight.
As we did in Half Moon Bay and San Diego, we expect to be in or around La Paz for a few weeks or more. We’ve already found everything we need here. Robyn went with a boat friend to see a movie at a local theatre, and today (November 20th) we saw both a parade on the Malecon, and a Seahawks game on TV in the marina café. I emailed a photo of our slightly worn windlass clutch plate to Lighthouse Manufacturing, the maker of the windlass, and received a reply less than 24 hours later. They said that the plate looked good to them, and their reply included pdf’s of clutch plate cleaning and maintenance procedures. While we are here, we hope to make progress on installing our watermaker, and maybe even the wind generator we’ve been lugging around. But the first few days have been hot so far, and lying around doing nothing, watching frigate birds soar overhead, feels really good.
The somewhat surprising thing we’ve found here is a large and active American retirement and cruising community living on their boats. It is much more extensive and tied together than we expected, with people knowledgeable on just about any subject, and always ready to help. It might not be bad to spend the winter right here. We’ll see.