Back to the Baja
09 May 2011
Friday, May 6: Buenos dias from Caleta Partida, which is a little bay between the islands of Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida. This is almost an isthmus, but there is a narrow, shallow channel between the two islands that we took the dinghy through to the other side so they are actually two separate islands. We are tucked up behind the bluffs on the south east end of this ‘caleta’ or ‘little hiding place’ and it’s a good place to be because the “Coromuels” are blowing 15-20 tonight. In a nutshell Coromuels are a localized south-westerly wind in the La Paz area that typically blow at night in the spring and summer months as a result of the cooler Pacific air flowing across the low lands of the Baja peninsula towards the warmer water of the Sea of Cortez. Behind the shelter of these tall bluffs we only get the wind, no waves. The fetch across the bay from La Paz is about 20 miles and many of these calas, caletas and ensenadas on the west side of these islands get significant waves in these conditions. Two of the boats that are in here now were run out of another anchorage just around the corner a few nights ago with 20-25 knot winds accompanied by 5 foot seas, which would make for an uncomfortable night and dangerous conditions on a lea shore.
We have been in here for three nights after leaving Marina Palmira in La Paz on Wednesday 5/4. I’m going to back track from this point to get up to date. I think I left off at about the time we departed Mazatlan on Sunday, April 17. That seems like a long time ago! It was foggy that morning and the harbor was closed for several hours. We got stuck inside then in the fuel dock line up at El Cid Marina, but we were finally able to leave by about 1100 hrs. We made the 190 nm crossing of the lower Sea of Cortez with about 201 nm actual distance traveled and on a heading of about 274°m, motor sailing most of the way in modest winds from between 1-3 knots to as much as 11-12 knots. We added a few miles by taking some long tacks with the wind shifts, which was from the west or southwest. We anchored at Bahia de los Muertos on the East Cape of the Baja by 1730 hrs on the 18th. It felt good to be back on the Baja, having left Cabo San Lucas on November 28th, to make the crossing to Mazatlan before heading south to the “Mexican Riveria.”
As much as we enjoyed the mainland this was what we were looking for; the water was warm, clear and emerald green with white sand beaches. We left Mazatlan a few hours behind Sirocco and So Inclined and were passed up by Blue Rodeo and Swift Current. Bahia de Los Muertos or Bay of the Dead is facing a make-over. There is an upscale hotel and home development on its southern end. They apparently thought Bay of the Dead was not a good marketing theme and have renamed it Bahia de Los Suenos or Bay of Dreams. True it is probably more appealing to some, but it will always be referred to simply as “Muertos” by locals and cruisers. There are remnants of an old wharf from the early 1900s at the north end of the bay left over from a pier that was constructed to service mining operations in the area. The stone work of the wharf makes a good dinghy landing and there is a restaurant/bar with wifi available. Not the kind of place we would frequent often at $40 pesos a beer and $20 for the wifi, but it was convenient and the only game in town. We had a good dinghy ride around the bay and then joined a “cruiser’s potluck” on the beach the following afternoon. That was fun and we had the opportunity to meet folks from other boats; Taking Flight, Honcho, Scout, Endeavour and a few others along with the usual group. The next day we had lunch at the hotel’s restaurant. The word was out that cruisers were welcome to use their pool as long as we were customers at the bar/restaurant; they must be hard up for business? We were forewarned that it would be expensive, and it was, but worth the effort. This facility, not the same one that is by the old wharf, is located at top of a low bluff above the beach. This small and upscale hotel and residential complex is very private and well guarded by security. The hotel starts at $350 US a night off season and the bar was priced accordingly. A private helicopter flew into a landing pad close by to deposit owners, but no matter, we’ve decided we don’t have to own it to enjoy it. The food was great despite the heartburn at the cost and the facility was worth the visit, it even had a complete model railroad system upstairs completely around the foyer that rivaled any; with several different gauge systems that were fully operational complete with towns and switching yards.
After lunch and a tour of the facility we got in some snorkeling on the reef in front of the hotel, then back to the boats for siesta. After a couple of days of this routine and a few boat projects we moved around the East Cape through the Cerralvo Channel and into Bahia de La Paz, a 45nm passage to anchor in a beautiful little bay called Puerto Balandra, at 24°11.003’ N, 110°18.236’W. This bay is uninhabited except by day boats bringing Mexican tourists from La Paz to the white sand beaches on the south side of the bay. This was Easter Week and a national holiday week here in Mexico. The beaches had started to fill up back in Muertos with 4 wheel drive buggies and campers, just like in the states except these folks are local Mexicans taking advantage of Spring Break week. At Muertos we were serenaded at night with their competing ‘boom boxes’. At Balandra the tourists and day boats leave in the evening and we had the bay to ourselves.
Balandra is open to the northwest and we anchored in the southern part of the bay as close to the tall cliffs as we could to gain protection in what would be our first experience with the Coromuel. The afternoon’s typical northerly breeze dies off and we are left with beautiful sunsets, flat calm water and starry nights followed by the beginning of the Coromuel wind. It starts slowly, swinging all the boats at anchor around bow towards its approach. The winds vary on different days. Our first night it stayed light, 10-15 until about midnight, then increased to 20-25 knots blowing constantly until sunlight. We were told the night before we arrived it blew 30-35, lucky us! With the cliffs above us we got the wind, but without any fetch only rivulets of waves impacted the boat. It was noisy, but not rolly or dangerous. I had heard a lot about these Coromuel winds, this was my first experience in them. The wind would die completely by late morning leaving it perfectly calm for a while before the afternoon northerly’s set in, but they were moderate and kept the heat of the day at bay. That said this would not be a good anchorage in a strong northerly blow.
We enjoyed several days of snorkeling, kayaking, paddle boarding, lounging and of course boat projects before making the 9 nm hop to Marina Palmira just on the outskirts of La Paz. Just before leaving we were ‘inspected’ again by a Mexican Navy crew that came into the anchorage in an aluminum boat that looked like a panga. As before, they were polite and asked for our ships papers, passports and crew list. Satisfied, they left quickly without going below and we were off. Once in the marina we were assigned a slip at the end of dock #3 with the long end tie next to us vacant. It was nice having the open space next to us and the fresh breeze, although while we were there a few of the very large cruising yachts did tie up for a few hours to load or unload the owners and clean up. I met one of the crew of one of these boats and we shared a couple of beers while taking a break from our respective chores. We chatted in broken English and Spanish as best we could and at the end he offered me fish! Not wanting to insult him of course I accepted. Truth is we had drug a line behind us several times and only caught a small bonita, which I gave back to the sea. Anyway, we were given a couple of nice filets of red snapper or ‘huachinago’ which we made ‘a la Vera Cruz the next evening to share with Anne and Mark from Blue Rodeo.
La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico is the state capital of B.C.S. and a city of about 500,000 people. This is not a tourist town, although it does have some components of that with several marinas serving the yachting community as well as a sizable ‘gringo’ community here, but no large hotel row. That said it is not at all like Cabo San Lucas or Puerto Vallarta and it has just about everything; Wal Mart, Sam’s Club, Home Depot, as well as their own Soriana and other mega-markets. We found four marine supply stores and a variety of hardware stores as well as an assortment of really good restaurants to choose from too. This city caters to locals more than to tourists and the restaurants were not all located on a tourist strip, but sprinkled about the community as well as on the malecon. One of the restaurants we patronized was called “Buffalo” pronounced ‘boof’a-lo’ which was recommended by my daughter-in-law Andrea, her Mom and Stepfather having a home here, we got several other recommendations from them as well. Anyway, this was pretty over the top, very nice, but in a relaxed way and the food prepared was superb. We went with a group of eight and were treated with complimentary appetizer. The chef came out while we were eating and asked how we liked the appetizer? What could we say; it was different, really great! When asked what it was we were told it was toasted pita style bread topped with a cheese I can’t pronounce and the little things on top were grasshoppers! Sure enough, looks like a leg to me! We can all now say we have eaten grasshoppers; and they were pretty good too, kind’a sweet and tastes like chicken. Although, we had a few among us that wouldn’t take a second bite (Marisa). It’s now Saturday, May 7 and we are still at Caleta Partida. We enjoyed our stay in La Paz and at Marina Palmira so much so that we extended our time there by several days. I was able to accomplish quite a few projects that had eluded me thus far before finally departing on day 10. This has been our longest stay in a marina, at least while we were actually aboard the boat and it was very affordable at about $20 US a day including utilities. We checked out of the marina on Wednesday, May 4 and headed straight for Caleta Partida. As much as we enjoyed La Paz, this is a wonderful place and absolutely quiet. The afternoon winds have died as predicted and yesterday we had a beautiful sunset across calm, flat water. It is late now, about 2130 hrs and the first hint of a Coromuel has just started. It’s a light breeze from the southwest. They are projected to be light this evening; we hope so. This evening after dinner we watched the sunset into the hills and mountains across the sea into the mountains of the Baja. The water was so calm that we could see some of the elusive sea turtles we had seen intermittently about the bay poking their heads up for a breath before swimming back down. I was surprised at how many there are in this bay. A ray swam leisurely by, his wing tips rhythmically breaking the calm surface, an occasional fish boil and you can hear the wind whistle through the wings of the sea birds when they dive after fish. We will post a few photos when we get internet again and I hope that they portray the natural beauty of this place; the desert by the sea. Until then we will post our blogs via satellite phone.
We are enjoying this place and the slower pace, but tomorrow we will be off to Isla San Francisco about 20 miles further North into the Sea.