The Sea of Cortez – first impressions…….. Mazatlan to La Paz

P1070208We left Marina Fonatur, Mazatlán at 0900 [local time] on Wednesday 18th May and motored down the Estero de Sabalo past Marina El Cid….

P1070142… making sure we were out of the channel before the dredger, which I wrote about in the previous blog, came into operation at 1000.

P1070141We started out on a heading for Bahía Los Frailes which, at approximately 160 miles, we anticipated we would reach around 30 -36 hours later. In the event the wind determined that we would make landfall at Ensenada de los Muertos, approximately 45 miles north of Los Frailes. We were quite happy with this and, even though it was an extra 30 miles from Mazatlán, the 190 mile trip only took us 31 hours. We officially left the Tropics behind at around 2000 on 18th when we crossed the Tropic of Cancer at 23? 27’N.

“Ensenada de los Muertos” [Bay of the Dead] has been renamed by developers as “Bahía de los Suenos” [Bay of Dreams]…..P1070150

…… in an effort to entice more people to visit I assume! It got its oriinal name when Cortes sent a boat ashore when he first arrived and all were promptly killed [and maybe eaten] by the locals.

It is a very beautiful bay…..P1070145

…. and a popular anchorage for boats heading between Cabo San Lucas and La Paz and for folk like us crossing to or from Mazatlán  or futher south to/from Puerto Vallarta. Needing to stretch our legs after the crossing, the following day we went for a short walk along the mainly unpaved roads which wind around the bluffs below Cerro El Perico. It is fairly obvious that these roads were the first part of the intended development but only three or four homes have actually been built [despite the name change!], the most impressive of which overlooks the bay with a frontage copying the “Alamo”.

P1070155It has even been built with stylised ruined arches and pillars!

Cardón Cactus and Coastal Cholla line the trails –

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– these being plants we are no doubt going to get very used to as we approach the desert lands surrounding the Sea of Cortez.

Of course few crossings are completed without a hitch or two, but we are always happy when the problems are small and easily solved. A broken screw on the mainsheet cleat was quickly replaced and the SSB aerial re-clipped [not that the whole of it had come down – just a few cable ties which had rotted in the sunlight needed replacement.

P1070149We had read about a small beach restaurant on the bay’s north shore called El Cardón and looked forward to a cold beer or two and some Fish Tacos. Fortunately, though no longer “El Cardón, the restaurant is still there having had one reincarnation as “The Giggling Marlin” and currently called “1535 Beach Club” – 1535 being the year Cortez landed in what became the La Paz area. As well as this small restaurant there is also the “Bahía de los Suenos Resort” which welcomes cruisers into its bar.P1070167

A little pricier than “1535” but very comfortable and well worth the visit especially to see the model train sets which fill the upper balcony.

P1070168We spent a very pleasant four nights in the bay, leaving at 0630 on 23rd to make our way through the Canal de Cerralvo before the afternoon winds made the passage more difficult. Apparently with adverse currents, strong winds and steep waves the 27 mile long channel can become quite challenging and some boats choose the slightly longer route passing outside Isla Cerralvo. Strong winds weren’t forecast and we were, anyway, through the narrowest part well before the wind got up – and even then it only hit 17kn.

P1070177The rather boring photograph above shows the channel with Punta Arena de la Ventana on the left, Isla Espíritu Santo – our destination – the light coloured blob in the centre and Isla Cerralvo on the right. There are a couple of marginal anchorages on the south western corner of Cerralvo but if people bother with them at all it is usually only as a day anchorage to visit the burial ground of the “Vagabundos del Mar” [native sea gypsies]. More importantly, for us, passing Ventana point meant we crossed from the Pacific into the Sea of Cortez – a cruising ground we have heard a lot about and have been looking forward to visiting.

Isla Espíritu Santo is the larger of the two islands making up the Espíritu Santo/Partida National Park. We headed for the less often visited anchorage on its south eastern corner called “Playa Bonanza” which, stretching 2 miles, is the longest sand beach on the island. Although there can be wrap around current we spent a very comfortable night and the following morning were well rested and ready for a hike across the island and back.

P1070185As you can see, the trail runs shore to shore along a sandy plain, the bottom of which is full of shells. As well as sand and shells we came across rocks which looked like limestone with stalactites [Mike having decided that the rock should definitely be viewed this way up!].

P1070193 (2)We decided that we must try to find a book about the geology/geography of the Sea of Cortez to supplement our woefully inadequate knowledge. We do know a little bit more about flora and fauna and, not surprisingly, saw lots of lizards skittering through the scrubby grasses.P1070198 (3)

Their camouflage is quite amazing – everywhere we go we see different markings on them and since they aren’t chameleons we assume that different sub species have developed to blend into their particular landscape.

I mentioned prickly pear earlier and this is what a dead branch looks like….

P1070181….though – even at the end of the dry season – there are signs of new life to come….

P1070182 (2)We were absolutely delighted when we came across a couple of these….

P1070186 (2)….the Mexican Black Jackrabbit which are almost extinct and only now found on one island in the world – Espíritu Santo. We didn’t know this until we looked it up later which made us even more pleased that we had seen them.

Having reached Bahía San Gabriel and taken several photographs of the shallow bay [including the one at the top of the post] we turned and made our way back.

P1070210San Gabriel is also a possible anchorage but, because much of the bay is shoal, boats are only just sheltered by the points. We will be sailing up the west coast of Espíritu Santo later and having seen it decided we will probably choose some of the other bays to anchor in.

It was a lovely walk – despite the heat and we really enjoyed our day which was topped off with a super sunset.

P1070180 (2)The following day we sailed along the south shore of Espíritu Santo – through the San Lorenzo channel which separates the island from the mainland. It contains dangerous hazards extending off both the northern end of the mainland peninsular and the southern tip of the island leaving only the middle navigable. All the cruising guides give clear waypoints for both ends of the channel and it is lit. Although we came through in daylight the lights mean it is navigable at night and we have been told that it is quite straightforward. However, we have also read that summer storms have sometimes wiped out the lights so maybe a daytime passage is the better option. In addition when passing through the channel it is wise to remember that at times of large tidal ranges, the current through can flow at up to 3 knots.

Having passed through the channel we motored the four miles south to “Caleta Lobos” – our next stop and only two hours away from Playa Bonanza. [Long distances involved here!!!] However, before entering the anchorage we went as close as we felt comfortable to Roca Lobos….

P1070224….on which lives a “California Sea Lion” colony.

P1070230 (2)It is a popular pastime in this area to snorkel/dive with the sea lions. However, we were there during mating/birthing season and have been warned that males are very territorial and females very protective of their young so we decided that, on this occasion at least, watching them was good enough. We hope to have plenty of opportunity to swim with them at another time.

It is possible to anchor in either of the two “arms” of Caleta Lobos and the prevailing wind of the season probably determines the best option [winter has prevailing northerlies and summer south easterlies].

P1070245We went in the southern, slightly larger, bay but once again, shoal means that you have to anchor quite a way out. When we took the dinghy to the small beach we were in knee deep water from approx a quarter of a mile off shore.

P1070242In whichever bay you anchor there is no protection should there be strong late spring/summer coromuel winds which, if they occur, blow from the SW. Although the anchorage is quite picturesque, was comfortable in terms of swell and we were able to watch some fishermen from La Paz…..

P1070252….. in the late afternoon we were plagued by “bobos” which are small black flies. They don’t bite but are a nuisance. They are more prolific in this bay because of the guano covered rock at the mouth. The cruising guide does say they can be a problem here but there were none when we arrived at 1100, nor during most of the day – so perhaps, in actual fact, we were lucky! However, having been once I probably wouldn’t choose this as an anchorage to return to.

Another short hop the following day [just 4 miles] and we were at Bahía Falsa. Just north of La Paz this bay is rather like a side bay to the commercial port of Bahía Pichilingue. We were chased into it by the overnight ferry from Mazatlán to La Paz….

P1070254….and later watched the Topolobombo ferry leaving.

P1070262 (2)You might wonder why on earth we would want to anchor so near the commercial port/ferry terminals. Well, from the anchorage you can’t actually see any of the port – the view is quite nice. There is a fish camp on the north shore

P1070261– though no one offered us any fish, the bay is well protected, the holding is very good and there is a beach palapa a short dinghy ride away. It is also possible to catch a bus into La Paz from here and some cruisers take that option for provisioning. Should anyone be considering having their yacht transported worldwide “Dockwise” and “Yachtpath” carriers both use the protection of Bahía Falsa to on/off load.

We were happy to watch the juvenile sea lion cavorting about, at least I think it’s a juvenile. It is certainly a sea lion rather than a seal because it has small ear flaps visible – but whether a juvenile or a grown female I wouldn’t know……

P1070265 (2)We then dinghied [if that is a verb?] ashore for my first Margarita since Mazatlán.

P1070272That would normally be a good note on which to finish a blog post but as the title includes La Paz then La Paz you will get.

The well buoyed part of the La Paz channel is about four miles long and starts about three miles south of Bahía Falsa. There are four main marinas, the first -“Costa Baja”- being right at the top end of the channel, followed by “Palmira” half way down and then “Santa Cruz” and “Marina de la Paz” next to each other at the bottom end. Two other small marinas next to Marina La Paz seem to be for local boats rather than yachts in transit but they are listed in the cruising guides and Abaroa´s has a 40 ton travel lift. There is also a small “Fonatur” – the side entrance to which is buoyed – but it is located about two miles further south west after an un-buoyed section of the main channel and past a couple of shoals. It is also possible to anchor out and several boats take this option and pay to use Marina de La Paz dinghy dock.

P1070276Fonatur was full when we enquired so we went into Marina de La Paz which is in a great position for the malecón and the town. Marina de La Paz is also the home of “Club Cruceros” a non-profit organisation which provides services to the boating community and the wider community of La Paz – particularly by raising money for the La Paz Children’s Foundation. Every day [except Sunday] November to May, there is a morning coffee hour, the clubhouse hosts a large book exchange and there is a bulletin board for swaps and trades etc. It also organises social events throughout the winter season. We arrived on 27th May and were only staying five days so didn’t join but as a visitor we were able to make use of the book exchange.

As with many seaside towns, a pleasant way of passing an hour in the evening in La Paz is to walk along the malecón which fronts the main part of town. Several bars and restaurants overlook the channel and are particularly good for drinks at sunset. We [well, mainly Mike] liked the “Harker Bar” – for fairly obvious reasons.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI enjoyed looking at some of the statues which line the front….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA…. particularly this one….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA….which commemorates the massive pearl harvest from the southern Baja. Not sure commemorates is the right word because due to increased demand and improved diving practices the oysters and their pearls have virtually disappeared – though cultivated pearl production does still bring some revenue.

We chanced upon some rather unusual statues in a little park hidden away on a side street.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was a peaceful space – dedicated to stones and birds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are two museums in La Paz but we only had time for one – the “Ballena” Museum. Ballena is Spanish for Whale – though the museum displays the whole range of baleens, whales, false whales, sea-lions, dolphins etc. A fascinating place.

It is easy to spot the museum as a huge blue whale skeleton is displayed outside – so large [24m/80ft] I couldn’t get a picture of it all

P1070284Inside there are many more skeletons – though the whole area is lit by blue lights – a sea effect I guess – so not good for the camera.

P1070278 (2)We had a brilliant young guide whose English was excellent. She told us so much – we just wish we had been able to tape it because our aging memories mean we can’t remember a quarter of what we were told! We were fascinated to know that there are several similarities between ourselves [humans] and dolphins….

P1070280…. and that all these sea creatures are descendants of an animal which once walked on land. I haven’t come across that side of evolutionary theory before.

We only had time for the one museum because we spent a couple of days provisioning for the next couple of months. Although we will be visiting one or two larger towns on our route, we don’t know what supplies we will be able to get so we stocked up on basics like tomato paste, various types of beans, pasta, toilet rolls etc. Thinking about it those things probably will be available – it is the meat and veg which may be more difficult – but, with only a fridge and a very small freezer we can only carry so much fresh stuff anyway. However, we successfully filled the cupboards – mainly from the supermarket “Chedraui”. This surprised me a little because we favoured “Mega” in Mazatlán but the Mega in La Paz was not – at least when we went – as good as Chedraui. We could have also tried “Casa Ley” and “Soriana”, and a Walmart two miles out of town – but, even though it can pay to look around, there is only so much looking you can do!!! There are also a number of small chandlers and Mike managed to replenish a few of his stocks too.

For people with good memories you will remember that our wedding anniversary is 9th June. Knowing that if all went according to plan we would be anchored off a deserted island on that date we decided to have a celebratory night out in La Paz on Saturday 28th May at “Las Tres Virgines”. A number of reviews on Trip Advisor said “for a real experience, try the mesquite BBQ’d bone marrow appetiser. So we did – and yes it was an experience!

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We followed it with Pork shanks, washed the whole lot down with a nice bottle of red [actually, make that two] and had a great night out!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, Mazatlán to La Paz – a really great time and a brilliant introduction to the Sea of Cortez. We think we are going to enjoy this sailing area very much.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2016/06/26/the-sea-of-cortez-first-impressions-mazatlan-to-la-paz/

1 comment

    • mark rogers on August 9, 2016 at 10:17 am
    • Reply

    Im very very impressed by the excellent photography. See you soon . Mark

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