Cruising on the Sea of Cortez - Page 1 of 2

[Famous rock formation at Cabo]  
This is the famous rock formation at Cabo. We rode the dinghy over to take a look. Some of the other rocks had sandy beaches, so we beached the dinghy to walk around. I remember it was difficult to launch the dinghy off the beach when we wanted to leave. Although the seas look calm, there were slow Pacific swells coming around the point and producing sizable surf on the beach. It took us a few tries, and some bumps and bruises, to launch the dinghy through the surf.  

Way back in March/April 1989, I visited my old college roommate, John, while he was cruising on the Sea of Cortez, between Baja California and mainland Mexico. Unfortunately, at the time, I wasn't keeping a journal, so I am relying on my memory for the details.

I believe he started his cruise in San Diego, after bringing his small Hunter sailboat down from the San Francisco Bay area overland on a trailer. He cruised south down the Pacific coast of Baja California, with help from other friends, stopping at various places along the way. As I recall, this was a fairly difficult passage of over 800 miles. After rounding Cabo San Lucas (the cape at the southernmost tip of Baja), he cruised back north up the Sea of Cortez, following the eastern coast of Baja. Click here to view an overall map of Baja California (35KB).

I joined him at Cabo San Lucas and traveled with him until La Paz, a distance of about 165 statute miles. Click here to view a map of southern Baja (23KB). Just getting to Cabo was an adventure in itself. I first took a cross-country flight from Maryland, where I was living, to San Diego, CA, where I stayed overnight. Then I took a train to the American side of the border just north of Tijuana. After walking across the border (lugging my suitcase and a sack of spare parts for the boat), I rode on one of the infamous "Tijuana Taxis" to the Tijuana Airport. I then took a flight to La Paz, which is as far as regular flights went (Cabo was very small and undeveloped back then). I stayed overnight in La Paz and caught the early bus to Cabo (boy, did that guy drive fast!). Then I walked to the harbor and yelled and waved until I caught John's attention. The last segment of the trip was a dinghy ride out to the boat.

[Cabo San Lucas from inner harbor]  
This is what Cabo San Lucas looked like from the inner harbor. There were a few large construction projects going on, although the techniques were decidedly "third-world" (little machinery, lots of manual labor, mediocre results).  

I haven't been to Cabo since then, but I understand it's much more developed. Back then, there was some hotel and condo development in-progress, but otherwise the town was rather small and sleepy. I remember that when we went walking around the town, we kept rocks in our pockets. There was a pack of stray dogs that was very annoying, and sometimes we would have to toss a rock in their direction to chase them away. There was a good-sized American-style supermarket, but when we went there, we were practically the only customers (the locals shopped elsewhere, naturally).

Cruising up the coast, I remember we didn't have much wind and had to motor a lot. Unfortunately, the inboard diesel wasn't working (we spent a lot of time trying to fix it). Instead, we used the little outboard motor that normally powered the dinghy, making a bracket so we could attach it to the big boat. The outboard worked surprisingly well, except it was rather noisy. I remember one time, the outboard began running poorly, and we decided the carburator had to be cleaned. I got to do the honors, by hanging over the transom and dismantling the engine, praying not to drop any parts into the Sea of Cortez.

The whole of Baja is a very severe desert, since the prevailing winds drop their rain all the way over on the east coast of mainland Mexico. The terrain is very mountainous, with flat barren valleys inbetween mountains. There is very sparse vegetation, including saguaro cacti in some areas. The weather was typical desert weather—very hot during the day, but cooling off a surprising amount at night.

We always stayed at anchorages, and there were many places you could anchor (assuming there was fair weather). Most anchorages had a sandy beach along the shoreline, and we would occasionally dinghy-in to walk around. On one beach, there were American tourists visiting, and one of the ladies was topless. That was a treat for us gringos but probably caused some consternation to the much more conservative locals.

Since the boat didn't carry very much fresh water, we always washed by taking a swim overboard. I remember worrying about sharks, and I didn't get very far from the swim ladder on the transom. We trolled a fishing line constantly, but never caught anything. At one point, we saw whales traveling nearby. Another time, a group of perhaps hundreds of dolphins went splashing and jumping by, rapidly traveling to who knows where.

When we got to La Paz (which is the capital of southern Baja), there was quite a lot of "civilization", including a pizza parlor. I remember the young waiter being glad to see us, so he could practice his English. As I recall, there was a sizable anchorage that was full of boats. They had reversing currents there, too.

I'll show you a few more pictures, but unfortunately, I don't always remember the details.

[Pacific seacoast]   [Pacific seacoast]
Pacific seacoast - These were the very first pictures of the trip, and I think this might be in San Diego, CA. I rented a car so I could drive around to pick up spare parts for my friend's boat. With a car handy, I'm sure I couldn't have resisted driving over to the Pacific Ocean—after all, I'm from Maryland; I don't get to see the Pacific Ocean very often.

[Shoreside facility]   [Anchorage at sunset]
Another shoreside facility. I don't remember where this was, but it was somewhere near Cabo.   Anchorage at sunset. I don't remember where this was.

[The captain]   [View of cockpit from below]
This is "the captain", John, on the boat while we were underway. Although the mainsail is reefed, it isn't windy at present. Coming down the Pacific coast, the mainsail ripped. Even though there are light winds now, we have to use the first reef to bypass the rip.   View of cockpit from below. My friend had a small autopilot for his tiller (which you can see in-use) that we used very frequently.

[Sunset or sunrise]   [Boat in anchorage at dusk]
Sunset or sunrise, I don't remember which. I would bet it was a sunset, since we weren't traveling long distances and so didn't have to get up very early.   Boat in anchorage at dusk. The air was very clear, and at dusk, you could easily see the distinct dark shadow band (behind boat) from the earth's shadow.

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