When we stopped at San Telmo last year, we anchored on the south side. This time, because wind and swells were still coming from the southwest, we stayed on the north side. We’d thought about stopping at Los Gatos, another small bay with south west protection, but there was a couple of boats in there already. San Telmo is an incredible bay with lots of hiking, good kayaking or paddle boarding, and the landscape is jawdropping, like most of the Baja coast. While we don’t know much about Baja geology, the hills, cliffs and rock formations are amazing, nonetheless.
During the couple of days we stayed here we kayaked in to walk up the arroyo with Jo. The greenery starts with palm trees to the left of a hill and there is an easy sandy path we followed for about 30 minutes before heading back. We had dolphins and a humpback in the afternoon. We ended the day with a beach fire and potluck with Rocinante and Jo. It was the perfect way to end a wonderful day with new friends. The next day, we got in the dinghy to take pictures, Nina driving and Bill shooting over 400 photos of the bay. You get the highlights. You can click on a photo within a set to get a larger view.
From Pichilingue, Gypsy and Dharma Girl buddy boated up to Isla Partida, the northern island of Espiritu Santo. On the way, big rays were jumping instead of whales. We dropped anchor Ensenada el Cardonal, where we had been foiled by a grassy bottom earlier in the year. We wanted to go back to Cardoncito but another boat beat us to it and it’s too small a cove for three boats. Cardonal is a lovely, bigger bay with room for more boats, and it does have a nice hike to the other side of the island.
One of the highlights at Cardonal was getting to see Beethoven again, friends we met in Puerto Escondido and buddy boated with for awhile. They stopped by for the night before leaving for Hawaii in the morning. We all got together for a potluck and had a lovely time. We waved them off the next morning at dawn. Twenty two days later they anchored in Hilo Bay.
On to Ensenada Grande, a larger bay at the north end of Isla Partida. We were hoping that by now, the mega-yachts and Semana Santa party charters would be heading back to whence they came. Of the four other boats anchored, we were easily the smallest boat in the bay.
After a rolly night, it was time to move on. Winds were good for heading north. We got the spinnaker up for a little while. Fishing was catch and release seaweed. At one point, Nina looked back at Ensenada Grande through the binoculars and noticed a Princess cruise ship with what looked like a bunch of tenders in the water stopped outside the bay. We had counted five cruise ships parked outside of La Paz as we were on our way to Isla Partida. Forty-five minutes later they were on their way. We caught part of a news story later that there were protests in La Paz over the cruise ships staying in the bay.
We dropped anchor in San Evaristo that afternoon. Another rolly night, so we moved to a different part of the bay the next morning. Everyone else had the same idea, and by the afternoon we were surrounded by big charter cats. We are guessing that the anchoring instructions they receive are: find an anchored monohull; blast in and pull up really close to their bow; drop anchor with maybe a three to one rode, and call it good. The rode ratio is how much anchor chain/rope you put out in relation the the water depth. We generally tend to put out four or five to one, so things could get interesting. Bill did ask one to please move farther away as he was uncomfortable with how close to us they were, and they nicely complied. But then two more dropped anchor practically on top of us. A forty to fifty foot catamaran has a lot of mass and is not something that we’d want to drag or crash onto us in a blow.
Coffee in the morning with Dharma Girl and Jo. Dharma Girl needs to head back to La Paz for work on their transmission. We’ll be heading up to San Telmo with Jo, and with Rocinante, a boat we just met.
Our stay in Mazatlán began at Stone Island, just the other side of the breakwater into the old harbor. It’s a beautiful anchorage off a long, sand beach. It was Semana Santa, the two weeks of Easter holidays, when all of Mexico turns into a massive beach party. The restaurants at the beach were open, competing bands and sound systems blared out, but the crowds were not huge. There must have been some kind of curfew because by nightfall the beach was empty and quiet.
After a quiet night, the swells started building to an uncomfortable level, so we headed for the old harbor. It has excellent protection against swells. It also has constant tour boats and fishing charters blasting by, and is sometimes downwind from the sewage processing plant. It is not a harbor you want to swim in, but once you dinghy into Club Nautico, it’s a short walk to the old part of Mazatlán. The harbor area was crawling with people, most thankfully, masked up. They were either going on a harbor cruise or climbing up to the top of the lighthouse hill. Past the crowds, there’s EuroBakery, a cheese shop, and closer in is an amazing fabric/quilt shop.
By Easter weekend, there were at least four boats in the harbor that we knew. Dharma Girl and Susimi put together a happy hour at Club Nautico. The Club’s hayday was probably fifty years ago. It’s a little dilapidated but we found a place we could meet up outside and we were able to renew acquaintances and make some new friends as well. On Easter Sunday, we had a ladies hike to the top of Cerro del Creston, where the lighthouse is. The crowd wasn’t big at all. The line to hike it had snaked down the street earlier in the week as it’s a popular thing to do for the locals.
The Monday after Easter a small flotilla set off across the Sea of Cortez for Baja. Gypsy and Dharma Girl were heading to Pichilingue, a bay outside of La Paz. The others were aiming for La Ventana, south of Pichilingue. We tried to sail as much as we could and we dropped anchor 48 hours later near Dharma Girl. The next day headed into La Paz for banking, internet, Allende Books for a plant guide to Baja, some fresh vegetables from the Mercado Bravo, ice cream cones, and then back out to Pichilingue. That evening, Susimi joined us at the anchorage.
There a a number of things we like about La Cruz. We spent about a month or so here last year and we’ll probably end up spending about a month here this year. The marina is a good place for boat projects. The Sunday Market is back in a new location, the fish market is still amazing, the vegan ice cream shop still has twofer Tuesdays and we’ve been able to pick up on Spanish language lessons with Ana.
We’ve had a pretty mellow stay here. The schedule, such as it is pretty open. Sunday market. Tuesdays and Thursdays we go to Spanish classes. This year we’re sitting in on both the intermediate and the beginner and are slowly improving. Wednesdays we take Gypsy out into the anchorage do run the Amigo net. There are fewer masts out there to interfere with our radio signal propagation. Then we go sailing and run the water maker. On Thursdays we head out so Bill can be the net controller for the Sonrisa Ham net, and head back into the marina to get to Spanish class on time. The rest of the week is spent on boat projects, walking into town for groceries, doing laundry.
Banderas Bay is a big jumping off spot for sailors heading to the South Pacific, Panama or Hawaii. Especially in January and February, there are free lectures and classes that Mike and his partner Cat coordinate or lead. The life raft demo was one of them. This was one of those sessions that had useful, practical info that we hope we never have to use.
The sail from Isla Isabel to Banderas Bay was slow. We had light winds, never above 10 knots, so we ended up motoring the last three or so hours of the trip. Even then, we arrived at the Punta Mita anchorage after dark. It became an exercise in anchoring by radar. The bay is surrounded by a glare of lights. Not all the anchored boats have their anchor lights on so they are difficult to impossible to see in the dark. We were tired from a long day of light wind sailing. We finally anchored safely and slept soundly.
The next morning we thought we’d head to shore to see what the town of Punta Mita is like. There isn’t really a good place to land a dinghy. The surf was breaking on the beach with bigger waves than we like to land in. We tried going into the panga basin, where the fishermen tie up, but it was full. On the way out of the narrow entrance, we hit a sequence of four to six foot breaking waves about six seconds apart. No backing out. The dinghy went through breaking surf just fine, but now that we know that, we aren’t anxious to try it again. Back to Gypsy to weigh anchor and head for the La Cruz anchorage. We hit town to load the phone, get some internet, and some fresh vegetables. We stayed for a couple of nights, took the dinghy apart and put it back on the foredeck and then meandered over to Paradise Village.
The marina at Paradise Village is in Nuevo Vallarta and is part of a huge resort complex complete with a mall, a hospital, more hotels and condos than can be easily counted, and live bengal tigers. It’s also the only marina in Banderas Bay that has potable water at the docks.
To get to the port captain’s office from the harbor master’s office you have to take a water taxi. It wasn’t working that morning so we put the dinghy back together. Since it was together, we took it up the estuary to see if we would see any cocodrilos. It was low tide and what we saw instead: lots of herons and iguanas, and a dredge that made us nostalgic for Rose City Yacht Club in Portland.
Paradise Village is nice, but it’s isolated in its own part of the bay. We rented a car one day to hit La Comer and Mega (grocery stores), Home Depot for peat moss for the composting toilet, and Costco. Bill discovered that driving in Mexico is still an adventure, and he had a conversation with a nice motorcycle cop about a signal that had gone red while he was in the intersection. Nina had just remarked that “you ran a red!” when he saw flashing lights. Thankfully, there was no mention of la grua, and he was able to pay his fine and get on our way.
We almost skipped Isla Isabel this time. We estimated the passage time from Mazatlan to Isabel so that we’d arrive there just after daybreak. What we didn’t include in our time estimate was that winds near Mazatlan were getting us sailing speeds of around 7 knots for most of the afternoon rather than the 5 that we’d used to calculate the time. At the faster speed, we’d arrive at 3 am. The question became: do we continue on to Banderas Bay so we don’t have to anchor in the dark? Luckily, the wind decided to drop in the middle of the night and we ghosted up to Isabel at daylight. There was one other boat anchored on the east side of the island, Perspective, who we’d met in Pichelingue. Two more sailboats were anchored in the south anchorage off the fish camp. Our anchor down, we heard from Perspective on the radio. Were we up for a hike? Of course.
Isla Isabel is called the Galapagos of Mexico. The diving is excellent and often has ecotours staying at the old research station. There are iguanas endemic to the island. It’s also a protected habitat for blue footed boobies and magnificent frigate birds. When we were here last year, it was courtship season. This year, since we got here later, there were babies! We walked past nests right off the side of the path. The birds don’t get up as you go by, they just clack their beaks at you. At one point we saw a Blue Footed Booby courtship dance. It was very stately. The male would raise one blue foot and then the other, all while his tail feathers were erect. The female mostly ignored him and then would give him a nip. He kept up his dance, and then gave her a twig. We aren’t sure why, as their nests are a clean hollow in the dirt.
There are literally thousands of birds on Isabel. Frigate Birds build their nests in trees, Blue Footed Boobies on the ground in the dirt. The Booby nests are very clean and very exposed. Sometimes their nests are right under the Frigate Birds. The Frigates tend to leave the boobies alone until there is food, and then they turn into dive bombing bullies.
Bill snorkeled around the boat to check on the bottom. What he didn’t tell Nina was that he had the dinghy kill cord in his pocket. She saw something red float by and thought it was a hot sauce bottle or something. By the time Bill realized it was gone, it had been half an hour. We got in the dinghy and rowed in the general direction the red thing had drifted and managed to spot it with the binoculars. We got to it just before it floated into the rocks on shore. We can use the dinghy motor again! Lesson learned: if you see something, say something.
We ended up spending about three days at Isabel, a truly amazing place.
Isla San Franciso is a beautiful, small island with a long sandy beach, and a spectacular ridge to walk along. While we were there, one of the large motor yachts had crew set up a couple of canopies, tables and chairs, and then brought in about a dozen people for the day. We contented ourselves with just kayaking over and walking on the beach before tackling the ridge.
We enjoyed a couple of days Isla San Francisco and then headed down toward Ensenada el Cardonal on Isla Partida. On the way we caught a nice black skipjack. The bottom at Cardonal was really grassy so even our 45 pound Mantus anchor wouldn’t grab. We tried a couple of times, but the anchor chain came up looking like a badly decorated Easter Basket. We had long, fine strands of grass everywhere. Off to El Cardoncito instead. Cardoncito is a small, V shaped cove that can maybe hold two boats at anchor. We dinghied over to the beach at the end and discovered that there’s a doable hike up into the island, but not in flip flops. Drifted along the canyon side on the way back to Gypsy and saw lots of fish: Panamic Sergeant Majors, half a dozen Guineafowl Puffers, a Balloon Fish and a bunch of Reef Cornet Fish. The latter look like undulous translucent ribbons in the water while they are moving. At rest they become lightly striped. That night the wind changed and blew out of the south, directly at us. It was a lumpy, hobby horse ride. Not much sleep. The wind was forecast for NE so we headed around the top of Isla Partida and headed over to Playa el Bonanza, on the south side of Isla Espiritu Santo. Pichelingue was the next quick stopover and then on to the Magote, the anchorage in La Paz. It was time to fix the water maker and have the engine looked at. However, the tidal flow at the end of January was a couple of meters, coupled with some high winds funneling down the channel. After a long, rough, wet dinghy ride to Gypsy, we headed back to Pichelingue for a couple of days until the wind died down. We scheduled a slip at Marina Palmira and went in to get work done.
We made it back to Loreto without any major mishaps. Planes were pretty empty. We managed to fly into and out of the same terminal in LAX, so our connection to Loreto was easy. Upon arriving in Loreto, we had a conversation with a nice official about our engine injectors, which we’d taken with us to Portland to have them serviced. Apparently, we should have updated our Temporary Import Permit before we left with them, but they would let us bring them in, just this once, with out the proper paperwork.
The next day we began the process of working on the boat in an exotic location. The injectors were reinstalled. White smoke out the exhaust. Not supposed to happen. And, something in the engine was making a new noise, and there was now a noticeable amount of water collecting in the engine bilge. The leak source turned out to be the raw water pump. Not the hose to the raw water pump, but the pump itself. We have some spare parts for it, but no spare pump. Luckily, Beethoven had a couple of old pumps and we cobbled a new one together with parts from his and from ours. The leak stopped.
On to the water maker. We unpickled it, flushed it and the solids reading was very high. We think we got some chlorinated water in our membrane sometime before we left, which basically fried it. We ran it for hours, ran two sets of cleaning chemicals through it and still got a high solids reading again. Time to go see the water maker guy in La Paz. While there, we’ll check out the diesel mechanic that friends recommended, and equalize our batteries (get them so they will fully charge more easily), and catch up on some needed provisioning.
Our week or so in Puerto Escondido was not all engine work, although we did take out and put in the raw water pump at least six times. We tried a CSA box and met some new folks. The veggies were beautiful, and the new friends introduced us to birria, little beef street tacos. Yum.
Nina got to experience a Mexican bank. Banks are used to pay rent, power bills, and other transactions, including paying for traffic tickets. You go online to find out how much you will have to pay, and then you go down to the bank and stand in line to get a number with an estimated wait time. There are rows of seats in the bank that are socially distanced, and you sit and wait for your number to show up on the monitor overhead. When it’s your turn, you hand over the official paper with the amount on it to the teller. If you want to pay with a credit card, only a Bancomer card will work, which of course we don’t have. She could have used her card to get cash from the ATM, but it was 3:00, the bank closes at 4:00 and the line to get back into the bank was down the block. The second try, with cash in hand, was successful. She is a free woman once again.
Northerlies were active while we were in Puerto Escondido. The wind blows from the north, with gusts into the mid 20 knots. Waves kick up, making a dinghy trip back to the boat a wet, bouncy experience, and Gypsy gyrates around her mooring ball as the wind ebbs and blows. After a few days of this, the wind,, thankfully, finally calmed. Goats roamed the hill behind us. A blue footed booby splashed down by the boat. We filled the water tanks with water from the tienda. We bought and hauled ten five gallon jugs of water out to Gypsy. Time to head south.
First stop, Agua Verde. When we were making our way down the west coast, in any conversations we’d have with boaters, we’d ask where their favorite cruising destinations in Mexico were. Agua Verde came up. Some day, when the engine and watermaker are working, and we’re fully provisioned up, we’ll actually spend more than a stopover night. It is a beautiful bay and we shared it with one other boat. And dolphins!
Punta San Telmo, is a small bay south of Agua Verde. There are a number of small bays you can tuck into when it’s calm. Winds out of the south were predicted, and San Telmo is a beautiful, safe place to anchor in when southerlies kick in. There is a nice sand beach and trails that can be hiked. The weather started socking in: totally gray skies, rain, fog, but not a lot of wind. It was like being in the Pacific Northwest!
The north side of San Evaristo was our next anchorage, since southerlies were still blowing. Rain and wind. We went ashore to see if we could walk over to San Evaristo, but were defeated by mud, and an inability to find a trail into town. We hauled up anchor and went by boat and anchored off the town. The boat, at least, was getting a good rinse off and the dust and salt were washed away. We spent a quiet day reading, knitting, and making brownies. In the middle of the night there, the wind kicked up in a new direction and we started rolling side to side. It was uncomfortable for a couple of hours, and then everything calmed down again. All accompanied by the bass line playing Mexican music from a speaker onshore.
Isla San Francisco is another place that gets mentioned as a favorite place to go. There’s a nice anchorage on the south side. Last year when we did an overnight there, we were one of about twenty-five boats, mostly sailboats. This year, the number of boats in any anchorage is much smaller. There are very few Canadians, as they can’t drive down because the Canadian border is closed into the US. When we got here, there were six other boats here: one other sailboat, five big catamarans. By the next afternoon, we were the only sailboat left. The seven other boats were all big motor yachts, at least 50+ feet in length. Some boats have Americans, but the rest have Mexicans aboard. It felt like a small version of Roche Harbor.
We motored most of the way up to Isla Coronados with Beethoven. No wind, but the fishing was good! We caught a fish on one of the lures our friend Chris recommended, a beautiful 2 foot dorado. Bill filleted it and we gave one of the fillets and the head to Beethoven, so they could make fish stew. They gave us a lovely piece of bonito they’d caught. We had better luck than Free Luff, who’d heard me on the radio asking Beethoven the ‘what do I do with it now’ question. Free Luff caught a passing motor boat, and almost lost all their line before it broke.
The water at Coronados was pretty clear, so Bill took a look at the bottom of the boat to see what sorts of creatures were attaching themselves to it. The bottom was still clean from its fresh coat of paint, but the knot meter’s little propeller was very crunchy with tiny, long worm casings. No wonder it stopped working again! We pulled the unit from inside the boat. Yes, that did create a mini geyser when we took it out but we plugged the hole while we cleaned out the calcified guck with a repurposed pallet knife. We reversed the process, put the knot meter unit back in place and bailed out the gallon or so of water in the bilge. If you’re fast with the plug, not much water gets in. We didn’t have enough hands to take pictures in the moment, so you’ll have to imagine what that the process looked like.
Hike in the afternoon with Beethoven on the south side of Coronados. Tried a different trail back from the beach and realized it wasn’t going to get us back to where we’d left our kayaks and SUPs. Had to do a quick backtrack before the sun went down, but we did make it back to our boats by the time the sun went down with a beautiful sunset. Bonito for dinner.
San Juanico was our next stop. Isla Coronados is about 20 miles north of Puerto Escondido and San Juanico another 18-20 miles north of Coronados. San Juanico has an island studded bay and is popular with campers as well as boaters. It was cloudy most of the time we were there, but it didn’t rain, so no help to wash the salt off the boat. We went for a walk with John and visited the small farm up the road from the bay. Fresh produce and eggs! Clambering over rocks with a dozen eggs tied up in a paper egg crate with baling twine is an interesting experience, but we all survived.
There was a norther forecast so we headed back to Puerto Escondido. We had a spinnaker sail back to Coronados but had to motor from there to PE. Back on the mooring ball, we put the dinghy together and headed in for showers. Having a cold water boat with no shower, we make an effort to get nice hot showers. On the way in, the dinghy was making a funny noise. It wasn’t the outboard. And then we discovered that we were taking on a LOT of water! When we put the dinghy together, we somehow didn’t get the lower through hulls tightened and they were letting water into the dinghy. Headed back to Gypsy for tools, tightened everything up, and got the leaking stopped. Back in again for showers.
And then came the 13th. Generally, we aren’t superstitious beyond a generic things happen in threes, so we thought we were mostly covered. Our new first bit of bad luck/news: Bill found out that his 94 year-old father had fallen and broken his leg. Since the norther was still blowing like stink, we decided to head into town. We got distracted driving out of the marina and drove into the gate. That was number two. We dinghied back to Gypsy in the wind and waves with an extra passenger who needed a ride back to his boat. Pretty soaked by the time we got back to Gypsy. Bill discovered that the water filter he was soaking over the side of the boat had come untied and the rope had wrapped itself around either the propeller or rudder and was not coming loose. Waves were now a frequent 3-4 feet as the wind had kicked up more. From the dinghy, Bill finally got the rope loosened without being pitched into the drink or bashed into the boat. Time to dry out, get warm: time for quesadillas. Bill cracked a tooth on one. It had been twingy, but it was done in by a tortilla. So a second on the trip out; the third was the tooth. Fourth or fifth(?): because we were heading back to Portland in a couple of days, we pickled the watermaker because we wouldn’t be able to run it everyday while we are gone. It had been having issues with high TDS, or total dissolved solids aka salt, in the product water and it was easier to pickle it than try to troubleshoot it one more time before we left. We then discovered the forward water tank is empty. We’d clearly been using more water than we thought. Time to buy some water. In talking with friends, they too, had quite the day on the 13th!
We got Gypsy buttoned up so we could head back to the States for the holidays. Dharma Girl gave us a ride in and we got on our way. But luck of the 13th continued. Nina got to have a conversation with a couple of nice Guardia Nacionals outside of Guerrero Negro. They explained that the speed limit is in kilometers per hour, not miles. We decided to take Mexico 5 back and blew a tire outside of San Filipe. It was a long 50mph trip to San Diego on the spare. It gave us plenty of time to try to find a tire, when we had phone bars. Next time we drive, we are strapping an extra real tire to the top of the car!
The border crossing into Mexicali took a couple of hours of waiting in line after we finally found it, due to road construction and interesting signage. We got through in one go this time. And then Bill got a call from his sister that his father had passed. We found a new tire at a dealer in San Diego. We could buy the tire there but would have to find a tire shop to install it as their service department was closed because of a Covid contraction. Got all that behind us and made it safely to Portland, where Bill got a colonoscopy and a tooth pulled. A quick trip to Minneapolis for his father’s service and then we head back to Gypsy.
We hope your holidays were safe, warm, and filled with love. Buen año nuevo – it can only get better!