South of the Border – West Coast Baja

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We had large pods of dolphins and beautiful sunsets with us all the way down the coast. One of the benefits of the first night watch shift

It is a 70NM passage from San Diego to Ensenada which is not far but, now that the days are getting shorter, is a bit too long for us to complete within daylight hours. Crab pots are a hazard in the shallow water in these parts and spotting the floats is pretty tricky during the day and impossible at night. Although some may be marked with reflector tape there are plenty that aren’t so they’re still a pain in the arse to get wrapped around the propeller! So we planned an overnight trip leaving San Diego in the late afternoon and navigating out beyond the crab pots before it got dark.

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We enjoyed the passage; we were excited to be finally heading to Mexico and we had a great sail during the night until the wind died just before sunrise. We arrived in the harbour at Ensenada in the morning and tied up at the Baja Naval Marina which is right in the centre of downtown. It was a Sunday and the good people of the town were in a fiesta mood; families were promenading along the waterfront in their Sunday best, the restaurants were full and wandering bands were crooning and strumming and their trumpets were blaring their brassy notes.  It was a boisterous, jubilant welcome to Mexico!

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Loving sailing in the sunshine!

The next day we had to complete the Customs and Immigration formalities. We received great help from the staff at Baja Naval in preparing all the documentation, Mexico is renowned for its complex and sluggish bureaucracy but hopefully we won’t have to cross paths with it too often. Ensenada has a one-stop-shop with all the officers in one building which makes the process easy if not very quick but by the end of the morning we were cleared in, had our temporary import permit for the boat and a fist full of fishing licenses.

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This sea lion made itself at home in our dinghy and was very reluctant to move. Now we hoist it at night.

We were ready to head down the coast and were keen to get going. We checked the weather forecast, checked the clouds and saw the giant flag which hangs over the promenade was flying and decided it was time to leave. We had a lovely sail across the bay past the Todos Santos Islands, home of the world famous big wave spot poetically named “Killers”, then turned south and the wind died. We flapped and flogged for a while then decided to return to Ensenada and try again another day .

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One of hundreds of vehicles in the 2017 Baja1000 race

As it turned out we were really glad that we turned back as we were in town for the departure of the Baja 1000, a grueling off-road race that criss-crosses the spine of the Baja Peninsula from Ensenada to La Paz. The town was throbbing with buggies, bikes and customized race vehicles with huge tyres, massive engines and stonking suspension – it was like a scene out of Mad Max.  We watched at the start until roaring, screeching monster cars racing towards us became boring and then headed back to the boat to check the weather.

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Pangas anchored in Bahia del Sur on Cedros Island. The colours of the hills are so variable – red, green, white, grey – makes me think about geology!

Eventually we left Ensenada and had a two night passage to Cedros Island from where it was another day sail to Turtle Bay where we planned to stop for a few days. These short 2-3 day passages are often more tiring than long ocean crossings as your body doesn’t have time to get into the rhythm of night watches and long days in the cockpit. We arrived in Bahia Tortugas (Turtle Bay) feeling pretty weary but soon perked up enough to get the dinghy in the water and head over to the beach.

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Neil and the Almighty watching over Distant Drummer in Turtle Bay

Antonio runs the Cantina on the beach which offers wifi, hot showers and cold beer – everything a cruising sailor needs. There are a couple of restaurants and a few shops strung out along the dusty roads and a grocery store which supplied us with fresh veggies. The only big building in the village of San Bartolome is the church which has pretty stained-glass windows and a great view over the bay.

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A panga skippered by a pelican in Turtle Bay

There were several other cruising boats in the bay, all heading south, and we gathered together to discuss the weather and the next anchorages, how to cook ceviche and everything else under the sun.  After three days we left for the short hop to Bahia Asuncion, the next bay to the south. The west coast of the Baja has long stretches of NW-SE trending coast broken up by occasional hooks of land behind which a sandy bay nestles. The NW swell often wraps around the point and breaks in waves on the beach, sometimes making getting the dinghy ashore quite an adventure.

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Watching the fog roll in with Shari at La Buffadora Inn in Asuncion

We enjoyed exploring the small town at Asuncion, we wandered out to the point and found a small hotel where we stopped for a cleansing ale and an internet fix. We met Shari and Juan who own and run La Buffadora Inn and they were happy to sit and talk about life on the Baja. Shari told us stories about whale-watching (which starts in February, unfortunately) and how her interest in it got started – it was a warm, friendly place to spend the afternoon.

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Fishermen busy on the beach at Asuncion with DD in the bay in the background

Unfortunately we were not paying attention as we were leaving the beach to head back to Distant Drummer. A wave broke across the bow of the dinghy and flooded it and everything in the dinghy got soaked. We managed to get the dinghy out before the next big wave hit but getting internet access is becoming a costly exercise on board Distant Drummer 🙁 Not to be defeated we braved the waves again in the evening to go ashore for supper. We found a small, down-home place called Loncheria Mari which served the most amazing chilli rellenos stuffed with seafood (lobster, prawns, crab and octopus) so the day didn’t end on a bad note.

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The masts of yachts behind the sand dunes in Bahia Santa Maria with a donkey looking on

Now we are in Bahia Santa Maria, it was a 2-night passage from Asuncion and again we had a mix of great sailing and times when we were going so slowly we were almost drifting. A funny thing happened when we were about fifty miles from the coast on the morning of the second day. A panga ( a small local fishing boat) suddenly appeared from out of the blue and came up behind us and asked if we had any sugar. For a bag of sugar they gave us a kingfish so they went off to enjoy a sweet cup of tea and we filled the freezer with fresh fish – good deal!

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Fishermen’s shacks beside the lagoon at Santa Maria

Santa Maria is a large crescent shaped bay bounded to the north and south by rocky islands and to the east by a thin strip of sand ridges which stretch for ten miles and separates the bay from the lagoon behind. We took the dinghy up into the mangrove swamp at the northern end of the bay and found a cluster of fishing shacks with brightly coloured pangas tied up at the edge of the channel.  The fishermen come here from November to May to fish for the tuna, jacks and dorado off the coast here. It’s a remote and beautiful place so it was a big surprise to find it has great wifi.

As the crow flies it is only 200km across the Baja Peninsula to La Paz but for us it is a 300NM voyage (about 550km)  . . . so still a ways to go!

Suzy

  1. Bruce Stewart’s avatar

    Hi Suzy&Neil – good to see you guys back in warmer climes. Mexico looks lovely and I am sure you are looking forward to La Paz and deep Baja country. What a wonderful journey you guys are having. So what are your plans after cruising around Baja? Do you plan to head east through the Canal or west back into the Pacific?

    We plan to head off in May/June next year, crossing the Bay of Biscay down to the Atlantic coast of Spain and Portugal then heading out to Madiera, the Cannaries, Cape Verde before crossing the ditch to the Caribbean around Xmas. Maybe we will cross your wake somewhere! Fond regards.

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