New England Trailer Sailors

Cruising the Sea of Cortez

Hello from TIME ENOUGH

Carol and I survived our trip to Mexico with nothing worse than a few flat tires (three of them!). Driving on Mexican roads is a scarey experience; much scarier than anything that happened on the water. The roads were rough enough to shatter glass jars in the bed of the pickup; the lanes are narrow with no shoulders at all; chunks of destroyed truck tires decorate the roadside about evey 50 yards; white crosses and small shrines along the road recall those who were not so lucky. We held our breath from the border crossing at Nogales, Arizona, the six hour drive to San Carlos, Sonora, praying to avoid becoming white crosses.

San Carlos has an excellent marina facility-perhaps the best on the Sea of Cortez. There is a large American community so most shopkeepers and marina staff have some English, which is very helpful. My highschool Spanish was not up to the task, although we did better as we went along. Many blue water cruisers from California end here for haulage and storage. The rates are reasonable - $3 to use the ramp, $10 for a slip,-$48/month for trailer storage.

We launched the afternoon we arrived and spent the next day doing some provisioning. Between dealing with pesos, Spanish, and 3rd world culture shock we were some what at a loss. There is so much we take for granted in the US - like clean drinking water, sanitation, working plumbing and telephones, clean floors. The trash bothered me a lot. There was trash everywhere you looked. Carol, whose greatest delight is a well stocked supermarket, was not happy with the food selection or the lack of cleanliness. After a while we got used to the way things are, but those first couple of days were an bit of a shock.

The next day we left the rather busy marina and for the next four days we were all alone. Sonora and Baja are desert, and the scenery is starkly beautiful. Rugged,rocky mountains rise right out of the sea; sun blasted rock bare of any life except for scattered cactus and a few tough shrubs. The 30 miles of mainland coast north of San Carlos have many sheltered coves, and each night we were the only cruising boat in the anchorage. By day the sea was empty except for the pangas, open Mexican fishing boats. It was lovely, and lonely.

The weather was uniformly beautiful. We didn't have a drop of rain the whole cruise, each day was clear and sunny, temperature rising to the 80's and 90's during the day, quickly cooling at night to the low 60's. The wind and seas calmed in the evening and stayed calm until noon, when like clockwork a breeze sprang up from the north, about 10-14 knots. We picked the right time of year to be here - later other cruisers told us that northers would blow 40 to 50 knots for 3-4 days at a time all winter, making northward progress tough. Relatively few cruising boats come this far north. The summer gets blazing hot, and tropical storms are common after July, so April and May are the best time to be here.

After a few days we returned to San Carlos to restock, and finally met some other cruisers. It was good to speak English again, and get some local knowlege. The cruisers that are here have traveled down the west coast, some from Canada and Alaska. They were at the end of their cruise. We missed the camraderie that develops traveling and spending time together as we did in the Bahamas.

The next day, or night actually, we crossed the Sea of Cortez (also called the Gulf of California) to the Baja California side. The distance is 60-80 miles, similar to the Bahamas crossing but you don't have to contend with the Gulf Stream or Atlantic Ocean. We started late afternoon with a pleasant sail. At night fall the wind fell to 0 and we motored the rest of the way. The sea was so mirror calm you could see the stars reflected.

Dawn found us looking at mountains even higher, starker, and wildly beautiful than the mainland side. It's my idea of what Mordor would look like. We headed for Coyote Bay in Bahia Concepcion, a protected cruising ground with many gunkholes, bays and beaches. It was Good Friday in Semana Santa, Holy Week, and everyone in Mexico heads for the beach. The shore was crowded with brightly colored tents and palm thatched palapas mixed with gringo RV's. We found a quiet spot to anchor where there was no road access, watched the pelicans collect nesting material, did some snorkleing for the first time this trip (water is cold, low 60's, wet suits required), then went dingy exploring on the Wren. The chart showed a hot spring on the beach and it was HOT. Too hot-you couldn't keep your toes in for more than one or two seconds.

There is very little in the way of markets in Coyote Bay, so after a few days we sailed 15 miles north to the town of Mulege. Mulege is up a river too shallow even for Time Enough, so we left her anchored just inside the entrance and rowed the Wren up to town - an hour each way. I got my exercise the next couple of days as we made a number of trips. At low tide it was too shallow even for the Wren and I had to get out and push. Mulege is a nice little town with food shops, restaurants, clean water and ice available, even an internet cafe. There is a large American contingent here who had a "cruisers" net on the VHF in the morning, although 99% lived in homes, trailers or RVs. I think we were the only ones actually living aboard a boat.

We returned to our old spot in Coyote Bay and found a beautiful 60 foot Hereshoff schooner had anchored nearby. We sailed the Wren over to admire her and got chatting with her owner. Her name was Kia Ora, which is hello in Maori, the native New Zealand language. She had not sailed from New Zealand, however. Jim and Rena were from the Pacific northwest. Rena had been on an expedition through the northwest passage and found relics of the Franklin expedition. She and Carol belted out a chorus of Stan Rogers "Northwest Passage". She was also a fisherwoman and a poet and an artist. We returned in the evening and had a fine time hearing more of Rena's poems, chatting, and singing under the stars.

We gunkholed around Bahia Concepcion for about a week, enjoying isolated anchorages and fair weather sailing. At Isla Requison there is a huge painting on the rocks done by a visiting artist; it is visable many miles away and makes a good land mark. I couldn't make out what it represented but was told it was coral and a whale. Could be.

By April 10 our time was running short (there is NEVER time enough!) and we headed for home. We stopped at Mulege again, this time sailing the Wren up to town - sure beats rowing! Our next stop was meant to be a four star resort on Punto Chivato, but the wind came up south east 20 + knots. Our intended anchorage would be wide open to this wind, so we put in a reef and continued north around the point to Isla San Marcos. The harbor was protected but there was a large gypsum mining operation with a noisy, dirty pier. After a short rest we continued on another hourto Caleta San Lucas on the Baja shore. This was real shallow water sailor territory - 3 feet at the entrance and shoals that dried out at low tide. The water was shallow, warm and clean, and we were all by ourselves behind a small barrier beach with 360 degree protection. We liked it so much we stayed an extra day, sailing the Wren, swimming, and just lazing about.

The next day we sailed back to the north end of Isla San Marcos, where there are a number of interesting coves with sea caves, good snorkeling, myriads of sea birds, high, grotesque mountains and no other cruisers. From here it was a short hop to Santa Rosalia, our last stop on the Baja shore.

At Santa Rosalia I had my first real encounter with Mexican bureaucracy. The rules are a ship, no matter how small, must check in and out of each port it visits. We hadn'd been to any real ports so had escaped this. At Santa Rosalia it took me 4 1/2 hours to complete this process, including 4 trips to the Port Captain's office, three trips to imigration, one trip to a copy store to make six copies of my crew list, one visit to Port Police, and one visit to the bank to pay the fee - 380 pesos or about $40. Everyone was polite, friendly and slow. And spoke no English. There was a disagreement between the Port Captain's office and the immigration offfice about what forms were or were not necessary. All these offices are in different locations, so I got a fair bit of excercise as well. The rules seem to differ from port to port. We in the the US have nothing to complain of regarding government bureaucracy.

Once cleared, Santa Rosalia is a nice town, well kept and clean (by Mexican standards). When we arrived we were greeted by the entire population of the marina - three other cruisers. The owner was away due to a family emergency and the marina was running itself on the honor system. Everything was very laid back and friendly. We stayed three days, shopping, enjoying the restaurants (my favorite was the wagon outside the church - deep fried hotdogs wrapped in bacon on fresh steamed rolls with your choice of taco toppings - muy bueno!), doing laundry, hanging out.

This time we crossed the Gulf in daytime. Because of the high mountains on both sides, land is visible for the whole crossing. The winds were light and variable and we motor sailed the whole way - 13 hours. We saw dolphins, manta rays, turtles, coyotes on shore, all sorts of sea birds. No whales except for spouts seen in the distance. Sea lions lazed on the surface like floating logs.

Our last day sailing, coming into San Carlos, we passed a school of manta rays leaping out of the ocean 3 to 4 feet, one after the other. They landed with a loud pop that could be heard a mile away. The sight and the sound made me think of popcorn, popping in a shallow pan. There were probable 20 or 30 of them - an incredible sight.

We spent one more night out at Martini Cove just outside San Carlos, reluctant to return to "civilization'. Next morning we snorkled one more time, then into the marina, pull out TIME ENOUGH and hit the road. Two weeks (we took our time) and 10,000 miles (total) later we were back in Albany. It had been a big adventure and great cruising, but a lot of driving. We on the East Coast are blessed with interesting cruising from the Canadian maritimes to the Bahamas. No need to go so far. But if any of you feel compelled to head south of the border drop me a line and I'll be happy to answer any questions. Buena suerte!

Bob Ahlers