Gone Floatabout

Sailing, Photography, Wilderness

The West Coast of Baja, Mexico, Part 1: Great sailing, snorkeling, sunsets, and scenery! (February 2018)


Desert Hills and White Horses_2

Desert hills and white horses! Fun, fast sailing off the Baja coast

We had a wonderful 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, uneventful night at sea.

Sunset leaving Ensenada

Glorious sunset after leaving Ensenada


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 very exciting!  Both Seth and I were initially drawn to offshore voyages because we love sailing, and while of course it’s incredibly wonderful to be able to reach so many remarkable places and meet so many fascinating people through travel-by-sailboat, the actual sailing itself is still equally (if not possibly more of) a draw for us. (Of course, we’re not asking for TOO much wind, dear Neptune!!)

Passage to SF-2

Sailing fast! Who needs land on days like this?! (On passage to San Francisco, October 2017)


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 suddenly 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!

Beautiful Sailing

Perfect sailing under spinnaker!


We reached our planned anchorage just as the wind died in the late afternoon  – perfect timing. 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 (and then Seth tried), the more it poked into our hands…. 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!

Desert island

The hill we wanted to climb



Elephant Seals

Elephant seal mothers and pups


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 beautiful quiet evening, alone in the anchorage.

Alone with the pangas

CELESTE’s first Mexican 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. 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!

Kelp Forest

Kelp art



Seal in Kelp Forest

Harbor seal in the kelp forest


By the time we’d finished snorkeling, the wind had filled in and we weighed anchor for our next sail – two and a half days (3 nights) – to Bahía Tortugas, a large protected anchorage about halfway down the Baja coast. We had yet another glorious sunset:

Another amazing sunset

Another glorious sunset off Baja

And then an exciting visitor the next day – a Laysan Albatross! Seth and I are 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 Hawai’ian chain (particularly Midway atoll and, appropriately, Laysan), but some breed on the offshore islands of Mexico. Laysan albatross


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 often to crazy cold places where the sailing won’t be like this at all…. Anyway, it’s very enjoyable sailing!

Mexican flag

Good sailing in Mexico

Writing in the log

Me filling in CELESTE’s log on the first evening of the passage

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.

Turtle Bay

Turtle Bay anchorage

One of the first things we spotted (besides the obvious town, boats, pelicans, big church, stray dogs, etc), were the black brants. Did I mention that we’re kind of bird nerds?… These were exciting (to us, anyway) because the last time we’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!

Black Brant

Black brant in his Mexican digs 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 lovely stained glass windows.

Turtle Bay Church

Turtle Bay church

Stained glass in Turtle Bay church

Window in the Bahia Tortugas church

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!

Turtle Bay beach

Turtle Bay beach

Here’s a map of our route down Baja. Bahía Tortugas (Turtle Bay) is the third dot down:

2017 route_Baja

Our route to the Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico.

(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!)


Author: Ellen

sailor, writer, photographer

6 thoughts on “The West Coast of Baja, Mexico, Part 1: Great sailing, snorkeling, sunsets, and scenery! (February 2018)

  1. nice post and photos; love the bird nerd content!

    • Thank you, Vic! Apologies for the late reply to your comment – only just now reconnecting to Wifi and so only just saw it! So glad you like the bird nerd stuff!

  2. Thanks again. Nothing like good sailing. It was cool that you saw some of your old bird friends from Alaska. It’s always a pleasure reading your blogs and sharing your sunsets.

  3. It must be such a change for you to sail in warmer climes! Great summary and photos.

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