The Secret Sea
Have you ever been somewhere so unspoiled, so beautiful, so perfect you were afraid to tell anyone about it for fear they'd go there and ruin it? That's how I felt after a one-week bareboat charter on a 47-foot Moorings powercat out of La Paz, Mexico. I couldn't wait to tell everyone about the splendid isolation of the Sea of Cortez, which I consider the best bareboat cruising destination anywhere. But I feared that once I'd told the world (or at least PMY readers) about it, the area would be overrun by—well, boaters like me.
Then I thought about it. The Sea is a place of stunning, lunar beauty and seemingly infinite, empty spaces. But that means it's not for everyone. Consider what it doesn't offer: cellphone, TV, and radio reception; waterfront bars, discos, and restaurants; VHF weather broadcasts; and reliable electronic cartography. The only town within cruising distance of La Paz is Loreto, and it doesn't even have a dock. And once you're out of VHF range, you are on your own. If you have a problem, you'll either have to fix it or get another boat to relay your distress message to the base.
Yes, you'll be roughing it here, but only off the boat. Onboard the Moorings 474 it's all comfort. You'll enjoy four cabins, four heads, a monster saloon, a genset, and air conditioning, which in mid-April we definitely didn't need. (From mid-May to mid-September, temperatures top 100.) You'll also get lots of freshwater capacity, a good thing, since there's nowhere to refill.
Two 150-hp Cummins will push you along at a fuel-efficient 10 to 12 knots (the 474 is a displacement cat, so that's about top speed), and as for electronics, there's a VHF and a Raymarine autopilot and chartplotter, which, given the fact that charts hereabouts haven't been updated in about 100 years, isn't much help. (Twice it showed us plowing through an island.) Fortunately, The Moorings supplies excellent paper charts and The Sea of Cortez Cruising Guide to the Lower Gulf.
In laying out your itinerary, you'll need to keep a few things in mind. There being no towns, your focus will be on gunkholing the many coves on both the islands (all but one are national parks) and mainland. Thankfully, The Moorings supplies a RIB and outboard, but you'll also want sturdy shoes or hiking boots. This country is not only rough but vertical, and breathtaking technicolor vistas await the hiker, particularly at dawn and dusk. Snorkeling is great, too, although you'll need a wet suit until mid-May, and fishing is excellent all year.
You'll also need to mind the wind. Northeast to northwest prevails, except for a local nighttime phenomenon in which the cooling land causes the wind to shift 180 degrees. Thus you may go to sleep in the lee, as my friend Christine and I did one night in Ensenada Grande on Isla Espiritu Santo, and wake up with a breeze on the beam, rocking at 2:00 a.m. Fortunately the Coromel (the name is a corruption of that of the English explorer Cromwell) is a factor only around La Paz.
Ensenada Grande was our first anchorage because we didn't get underway until midafternoon and it's close to La Paz. Being in the lower latitudes, southern Baja enjoys late sunsets, even in winter, so we had time to first visit the sea lion rookery on the islet of Los Islotes, at the northern end of the island. It's a raucous place that puts you very close to some big and occasionally aggressive sea lions. You can even swim with them, although we opted for the view from the RIB.
The next day we headed to Isla Coyote, 10 miles north of Los Islotes and a barely larger speck on which some 30 fishermen manage to not only live harmoniously but also make a living. We were invited to tour the island, which took about 10 minutes and included viewing an impressive collection of whale vertebrae. (These waters teem with many varieties of whales, which migrate here from as far as Alaska to bear their young.) We also purchased dinner, a 10-pound red lobster, for about five dollars.
The remainder of the afternoon was devoted to enduring a four-hour passage to Ensenada Timbabichi on the mainland. I say enduring because of El Norte, a 25- to 30-mph zephyr right on our nose, which kicked up a nasty chop. Our 474 handled it with aplomb, and along the way we were treated to dolphins—hundreds of them. The sea veritably boiled as they herded herring north in the narrows between the mainland and Isla San Jose. Soon gulls and frigates appeared, creating a cacophony that didn't stop until we reached our anchorage, where we enjoyed the solitude of being the only boat. We'd just enough time before dusk to explore a waterway at the north end leading to lush wetlands, a weird juxtaposition with the surrounding desert. Our cruising guide suggested taking our RIB all the way in, but a full moon had brought an extreme low tide, leaving only beach where the creek was suposed to be. We hiked in instead.
Our third day brought more El Norte, but since we left early, we were in Agua Verde around noon. Despite its unappetizing name, this was a beautiful cove, albeit "crowded" with three other boats. Although protected, a low beach to the north allows for a breeze. At about 3:00 p.m. it began to rain, unheard of at this time of year. But then when you travel in Baja, you must expect the unexpected. When the sky cleared, the setting sun lit up the surrounding hills in infinite varieties of terra cotta. An hour later the porous volcanic earth had absorbed all trace of moisture.
With our gauge on half, we ran to Puerto Escondido on day four; it's the only place outside of La Paz to buy diesel. A failed residential development, it's an odd place, its modern fuel dock and numerous moorings inside a well-protected cove contrasting with empty streets designed to serve hundreds of homes. We took on 420 liters at a cost of 2,480 pesos, plus a 75-peso service charge. That works out to about $2.13 a gallon, another great reason to charter in Mexico.
With nothing much to explore here, we began our trek south, stopping first at Ensenada Tambibichi, then Caleta Pardita, this time with the wind helping instead of fighting us. Both nights the wind died around dusk, allowing for a beautiful night at anchor complete with full moon, but early the next morning, it piped up blusterier than ever. Since all of our anchorage candidates had at least some northerly exposure, we were left to one option, Isla San Fancisco. Just about every other boat in the area had come to the same conclusion, so we had to jockey for position among nine occupants. I griped about it until I remembered that where I live, nine boats constitutes a deserted anchorage.
Isla San Francisco provided an enjoyable respite, and it prepared for our return to real life—at least partially. The next day we stopped just north of The Moorings' base in a small bay called Pichalinge and dined with the locals on fresh fish tacos and Negro Modelo beer.
Three months later I've told just three friends about bareboating in Baja. And now you know. But please, let's just keep it among ourselves.
Prices for a bareboat charter aboard a Moorings 474 range from $1,140 to $1,485 per day before discounts depending on the season. Food and fuel are extra.
Exclusive Offer From The Moorings
The Moorings is offering PMY readers the use of a kayak for free with any power-yacht booking in any of its power charter destinations. Just mention Power & Motoryacht when you book your trip! Visit www.mooringspower.com for information on its power charter vacations, destinations, and yachts.
This article originally appeared in the July 2008 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.