We had a good time cruising down the west coast of Baja – it’s a beautiful, wild place, and it was especially interesting and unique for us as it was the first time we have sailed off a hot desert coast. (Much of the Arctic is a desert, of course, but it’s very different from the red hills of Baja!) It made quite the change from the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest that we’d grown so used to over the last few years!
We first puttered out from Ensenada into yet another glorious sunset, and had another calm, rather boring night at sea.
Then the wind finally came. We hadn’t had much wind since our passage to San Francisco in October, so seeing the ripples move across the water towards us and then catch our sails was exciting. I grew up in a family that sailed little dinghies, so I’ve always loved sailing for its own sake – the quiet of it (though it’s a whole lot less quiet offshore), the fact that it’s just wind driving your forward motion, and the pleasure of getting the best speed out of a boat. Since sailing offshore, I’ve discovered that the ability to reach so many remarkable places has become just as much (if not more) of a draw for me, but the sailing itself was what brought me to ocean voyages in the first place.
Except for our overnight to Morro Bay, we’d had calms all the way from San Francisco to Ensenada, so it was such a good feeling to finally have the sails bellying out and have the engine noise gone and replaced only by the wind, the gurgling water under CELESTE’s forefoot, and the creak of the mainsheet block. It was a light northerly – perfect – so we went right to work on the foredeck to set the spinnaker. What a glorious run!
We reached our planned anchorage just as the wind died in the afternoon, so we launched our dinghy and rowed ashore to explore. Our first idea was to try to climb to the top of the nearest hill but, partway up, an unfortunate encounter with a small but angry cactus put a stop to that. It poked right through my shoe and the harder I tried to remove it, the more it poked into my hand…. There were tons of these little nasty cacti all up the hill (and no trail, of course), so we retreated and were rewarded by the sight of a pair of elephant seal mothers nursing their pups on the beach.
We exchanged “buenas tardes” (pretty much the extent of our Spanish…) with a few of the fishermen at their camps on the beach and then rowed back out to CELESTE to spend a quiet evening, alone in the anchorage.
The next morning dawned calm again, so we decided to go for a snorkel. The water is quite cold off the west coast of Baja, due to the California current that brings cold water down from British Columbia. So we suited up in 5mm hooded wetsuits, gloves, and boots so that we’d be able to stay in for an hour or more. Just a few yards swim from CELESTE, we found a large, healthy kelp forest, full of fish and even a bunch of shy harbor seals!
By the time we’d finished snorkeling, the wind had filled in and we weighed anchor for our next sail – 3 nights – to Bahía Tortugas, a large protected anchorage about halfway down the Baja coast. We had yet another glorious sunset:
And then an exciting visitor the next day – a Laysan Albatross. I’m familiar with these birds from their summer feeding grounds in Alaska, so it was fun to see one in its winter breeding area instead. Laysan albatross breed mostly in the northwest Hawaiian chain (particularly Midway atoll and, appropriately, Laysan), but some breed on the offshore islands of Mexico.
We had good sailing on both days, with a steady and moderate W wind pushing us south. It was very civilized sailing, with a long, even westerly swell and small westerly wind waves. Sailing like that is what brings you (me, at least) back to sea over and over again, and what makes you forget any hardships the ocean might have brought you in the past…. Nights at sea in conditions like that are when you start dreaming up new voyages, in my case to cold places….
Just before dawn on the 3rd day of the passage, when it was still dark, we reached the entrance to Bahia Tortugas (Turtle Bay, though we didn’t see any turtles). It was beautiful to watch the sun come up and turn the empty hills red as we sailed into the anchorage. The town looked sleepy and dusty, but a bit bigger than we expected, and the anchorage held quite a few fishing pangas and about half a dozen cruising sailboats from Canada and the United States. We turned in for a few hours’ sleep after setting the anchor and then went ashore around lunchtime to explore.
One of the first things we spotted (besides the obvious town, boats, pelicans, big church, stray dogs, etc), were the black brants. (You have permission to roll your eyes here at my bird nerdiness.) These were exciting (to me, anyway) because the last time I’d seen black brants was in Barrow, Alaska, where they were gathering in enormous flocks to migrate south from their Arctic breeding grounds to their winter condos in Mexico…. And here they were, installed for the winter!
The town of Turtle Bay turned out to be a low-key, friendly place whose biggest building was the Catholic church. It was rather impressive for the size of the town, and had quite a few nice stained glass windows.
We spent about 4 days in Bahia Tortugas, mostly for Seth to get caught up on his consulting work, and also to do a few small boat projects (replacing one of our genoa cars and installing a rack for our fishing rods – finally after all these years!).
We made time, though, to take walks ashore on the beautiful beaches and to meet a few of the other sailors in the bay, always fun!
Here’s a map of our route down Baja. Bahía Tortugas (Turtle Bay) is the third dot down:
(Please note: I scheduled this post to come out while we’ve gone floatabout again, but I will read and respond to comments when I next get internet – thanks!)