Magic Log #1: La Paz to Guaymas

In February 2014 we bought Magic, our 1992 Privilege 39 catamaran. Magic is a well equipped, comfortable, capable vessel which we plan to travel well afield on; see the pacific planning page above. I was planning on chronicling our time on Magic, but life and laziness got in the way and now we’re more than a year on. Mea culpa. So now I’m going back and starting from the beginning.

After buying the boat we went for a shakedown cruise of a few days before flying to the US. The boat sat and waited in La Paz, and a month and a half later we were able to return. From here we spent a week and a half sailing to Guaymas, 250 miles north and on the mainland side of the sea, to leave the boat for the summer.

Our first stop was Puerto Ballandra, an anchorage 13 miles north of La Paz which we’d been to several times before. Eager to break free of La Paz, and with Corumuel winds the next morning entering the anchorage, we sailed north, making 35 miles to Isla San Francisco on a broad reach. This was the first passage we did on Magic under sail, a really comfortable time.

On Grand Illusion, Isla San Francisco was the furthest north we got into the Sea of Cortez. And that visit was brief; after a trying evening rolling and bucking our way across from Isla Partida, we left the first thing the following morning to make our retreat back to La Paz (and eventually buy Magic). This time around, it was great to spend a couple days on the island. San Francisco is pretty small, with a beautiful curved bay to the southeast. Winds were entering the bay though, so we went behind it to a smaller anchorage. From here we had some protection, and could still easily go ashore and check out the hiking trails running all over this corner of the island.

Nearby the boat were some areas for snorkeling, which we checked out by kayak. I speared a few small fish. Magic came with a pole spear and a spear gun, and having no experience with spearfishing (I never fished on Grand Illusion) I started out with the conceptually simpler and safer pole spear.

Hunting with a pole spear is a pain in the ass. I’m sure it’s a problem with my technique and/or equipment, but I would have to dive down and get within a few feet of the fish to have enough power to take it. Fish don’t generally appreciate people getting that close, so much swimming, aborted attempts and misses ensued. Which is fine, and the snorkeling here was nice, with several morays coming out into the open after smelling blood, but I needed to do more work on improving at this sport.

From Isla San Francisco we left in the middle of the night to motor to Puerto Los Gatos, 40 miles north. Historically, when I have some distance to make and expect light or adverse winds, I try to get a super early start and time the arrival for the late morning. This lets us get in before the winds pick up, and still have most of the day to explore the anchorage we arrive at. This was the first time I’d done this sort of passage with Lisa, though, and while initially concerned about the idea, after seeing how calm things were she was fine with it and went back to sleep as we puttered north.

Los Gatos is a small anchorage with poor protection but some neat sandstone formations on the shoreline. Having spent so much time in southern Utah this was pretty familiar to the two of us, but we had a lot of fun hiking around on shore and then picking our way through the cactus to the southern lobe of the anchorage.

The snorkeling at Los Gatos was really good, with a great variety and number of fish. I found an octopus out in the open, went down and caught it, and both of us played with it a bit before letting it go.

I went spearfishing again at Los Gatos, trying out the spear gun this time. This is a very different experience from using a pole spear. I’m sure there are a lot of subtleties when using a spear gun to take larger fish, especially in more open water, but using a spear gun to hunt for dinner on a reef isn’t rocket science. I swam around on the surface, hanging out over sandy crevices and taking potshots at fish feeding in the area. My aim was horrible and I kept missing, but the fish really didn’t care as I swam down repeatedly to retrieve the spear.

After doing this a while a small school of large Trevally swam by several feet away. Without hardly thinking I took a shot and watched the spear (my only spear) lodge itself in the fish before it swam off. Hmm. I went in its direction, and started seeing flashes of reflected light from below. I dove down 20 feet and found the fish, which was having difficulty swimming due to the spear in its side. I grabbed the spear, after which the fish was able to get the leverage it needed to twist off and swim away. Oh well. Spearing fish which I’m not able to take is the aspect of spearfishing I like the least. At least this fish was lightly injured and probably survived, but who knows. Since then my fishing has improved and this happens less, but it’s hard to avoid entirely.

After a night at Los Gatos we left the next morning for Bahia Agua Verde, 18 miles away. This is a very popular anchorage and there were a dozen or so boats in our tiny section of the bay, with the beaches around us all packed with people. We eventually realized we had arrived on Easter Sunday, a hugely popular day in Mexico for heading to the beach. We did some snorkeling, but with all the crowds we decided to move on in the afternoon, making our way to Bahia Candeleros, another 17 miles north. The following morning we left yet again, heading eight miles to Honeymoon Cove on Isla Danzante.

This is an awesome spot. The anchorage was in deep water and a bit tricky, but had a gorgeous, quiet setting. Some hiking trails ashore went up onto the bluffs surrounding the anchorage, where we were able to get some nice views and, most importantly, a cell phone signal from the Loreto towers. This was the first internet access we’d had since Puerto Ballandra, which allowed us to stay for several days and work and explore.

Honeymoon Cove is really a pocket of three small coves at Isla Danzante’s northwest point. We kayaked around these coves, and then paddled together down most of the west coast of the island. Lisa returned to the boat while I continued the rest of the way around the island, maybe eight miles total. This was good to check out, and there were a couple small arches on the east side and some other cool terrain but no promising anchorages.

Our favorite activity at the cove was snorkeling, which we did every day. Several spots running up to the north tip of the island had great fish. I went spearfishing almost every day, easily catching a good variety — grunts, chubs, wrasse, one triggerfish. I’ve always loved triggerfish, with their awkward swimming and bizarre diamond shape, and it turns out they’re great eating too. It’s hard for me to snorkel now without thinking about how tasty the fish I’m looking at would be. I’d kind of like to keep the enjoyment of the fish and the hunting of the fish disassociated though, which is one reason I don’t spearfish while scuba diving (other reasons: it’s illegal, and doesn’t seem sporting).

Eventually, we had to leave, and headed north past Loreto and across the sea to Guaymas. This was about 128 miles, by a big margin the longest we’d done, but went smoothly. We started motoring, and after getting into the afternoon we sailed for a while. After dark the wind died and we motored the rest of the way.

This was my first overnight passage with Lisa, and the first time we kept watches on a timetable. After dinner Lisa went to sleep, then I kept watch until midnight, then Lisa took over until 4am, then I resumed and kept watch until we were both awake. “Keeping watch” here means setting an alarm to get up every 10 or 15 minutes, looking around for boats, checking engine gauges (if applicable) and conditions, then snoozing or reading or whatever until the alarm goes off again. In more crowded waters or with rocks and islands around you need to be more vigilant, but if you go the whole night without seeing land or another boat there’s not much to be concerned about.

Late the next morning, about 28 hours after leaving Isla Danzante, we arrived in Guaymas. We had several days at this point before we were scheduled to haul out, and went looking for a quiet spot where we could start preparing the boat for its summer storage. We anchored at a pretty spot with good internet and a lot of frigate birds several miles south of the city, and started working. That night and the next day we started seeing a film drifting by on the water surface, accompanied by a horrid smell. We realized we had anchored near a shrimp processing plant (one of the main industries in Guaymas), and quickly weighed anchor and headed up to the city proper, where we spent the rest of our stay.

Guaymas is an interesting city. No tourism, and very Mexican, we spent a lot of time walking around and taking the bus to various parts of town. We spent more time here than we would have liked, truthfully. There are a lot of things to do to button up the boat when storing it, but no more than three or four days of hard work. We got stuck waiting around for the boat to be hauled, though. We were trying to store the boat at Marina Guaymas, a dry storage yard on the south side of town. The day we were supposed to haul came and went, then a couple more days went, then they hauled another catamaran but not us, then we found out it would be at least four more days before we could haul, then we gave up and left the boat in the water at Marina Fonatur, the other marina in town. (Marina Fonatur also could have hauled us, but we were running short on time and needed to be back in the states.) I don’t want to dwell on this, and Marina Guaymas seems like a good yard and definitely a great place to do your own work on a boat, but they also have trouble with multihulls and I doubt we’ll return in the future.

We were glad to take the final steps with Magic of putting on all the summer canvas, packing our bags and taking an overnight bus to Phoenix. I was already looking forward though to returning in the fall and starting a more extensive cruise, though.

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