Magic Log #6: La Cruz to Guaymas

Leaving La Cruz we didn’t have any schedule we were trying to stick to, but wanted to spend a few more weeks on the mainland before we crossed the sea back to the La Paz area and then made our way north to Guaymas to store the boat for the summer.

We left in the morning and rounded Punta Mita in calm conditions. A few miles north of the point I saw splashing in the distance, and looking through binoculars we saw a couple humpbacks slapping their fins and several splashes from breaches. We moved closer and were able to see a couple breaches, the first I’ve ever seen.

After half an hour we started heading back towards our destination for the day, Sayulita. We sailed part of the remainder, and then motored to the same spot we had been at a couple weeks before. The weather wasn’t great, with thick clouds and spitting rain. We relaxed the rest of the afternoon, hoping for better conditions the next day. Unfortunately, it continued to rain when we got up. We went in to shore and did some surfing and boogie boarding, and did some SUP’ing later in the rain, but it was hard to really enjoy ourselves. I was hoping that conditions would be better at the next spot we wanted to stop at, San Blas, and made plans to leave the second night. When I got up around 2am it was still raining, but the wind was light and we headed out.

Soon after leaving the anchorage the wind started building from on shore, running in the teens the rest of the night. As light came it stopped raining, but the wind built more and was over twenty knots for a while, gusty and reaching 30 knots sustained a few times. This really surprised me, as the forecast had been for light winds; while there were thick clouds inland, the sky over the ocean was clear, so I would expect any winds to be offshore. I still don’t know understand what caused these winds, but the weather had been unsettled when we left, so I guess it’s important to be extra vigilant at such times.

After a pretty unpleasant passage we arrived in Matanchen Bay — a few miles east of San Blas — in the early afternoon. The wind thankfully came down as we approached the bay, and I sat around the rest of the day, not doing much. We didn’t get a cell signal here for internet, and left the anchorage the next morning to look for a spot where we could work. Two miles to the west, as we reached Playa Hermosa outside of San Blas, we got a signal and were able to anchor at a really pretty little spot just outside a surf break on the beach and river mouth. I went in to the beach and did some surfing and had a great time. This spot was just what I had been looking for since arriving on the mainland.

On return to Magic I talked to Lisa and tried to encourage her to go in to the beach and try some boogie boarding. The waves here were much bigger than they had been at Sayulita, though, and did not break consistently on the beach. After looking at the waves for a few minutes through binoculars, Lisa wasn’t interested in going in. I kind of broke down after this, and was unable to really talk for what felt like a while.

This episode was similar to, though less severe than, the episode I had back in the fall after we went through severe weather near San Carlos. A few nights after this one, Lisa and I did some web research and made us suspect I was reacting to the stress of dealing with weather. Now that we’re aware of this I hope I’ll react better in the future, though I guess we’ll see.

In the moment I was feeling very down and eventually went kayaking. I paddled back to Matanchen Bay, where there is a renowned surf break, Las Islitas. As I entered the bay several 2-3 foot waves broke out from the beach, which I was able to catch in the kayak, one after the other. I went a little further and talked to several folks surfing on SUPs, and caught some more really nice, long, mellow rides. This spot seemed like the perfect place for Lisa to learn about and have fun in the surf, and my mood started to lift immediately. I didn’t stay long, and soon paddled back to Magic. When I returned, Lisa was pretty troubled by me trying to pressure her earlier. We decided to head to a new anchorage closer to town, where we could head into town and clear our heads. We left the next morning, motoring past the city’s breakwater and up the river estuary which the town is set aside. We anchored next to a mangrove forecast, dozens of birds around us.

We dinghied to the nearby marina and walked in to town. San Blas was a great place, very mexican, lots of older buildings and squares. We walked around, bought some fresh shrimp and other groceries, and were feeling a lot better as we went back to the boat.

The evening was relaxing, and then the jejenes came out. San Blas is notorious for jejenes, biting no-see-ums that are prolific in the area. We started encountering the jejenes when we first got to Matanchen Bay, and found we could only deter them with deet or a mosquito coil. At the anchorages they had been pretty annoying, but in the estuary they were horrendous, coming at us constantly starting in the evening and continuing through the night. In our bedroom we tried bug netting, but the jejenes came right through it. We closed all the hatches and things got so stuffy and hot I returned to the salon and slept next to a burning mosquito coil. The first thing the next morning we left town and returned to our previous anchorage off the beach break.

The jejenes were nowhere near as bad here. Over the next several days their numbers would continue to decrease, until they seemed gone entirely and all we had to remind ourselves of them were thousands of dessicated corpses on our ceilings. We were able to relax, and did a few more trips into town, with it continuing to grow on us. We also did a tour through the mangroves by panga, seeing a huge amount of wildlife and beautiful scenes.

Mostly, though we went to the surf break in Matanchen Bay. I talked to Lisa and she wanted to see the Las Islitas break I had been to earlier. We dinghied over and landed in the mellowest spot possible. The nearby waves were, indeed, perfect for learning on, gently breaking in knee to waist deep water and continuing for a long distance. Lisa spent the first day here with a boogie board, and then started using a SUP to catch waves. Over several days she progressed a lot and was able to steer the board well and stand up on it. This was awesome to see.

We stayed in the San Blas anchorage another week and a half, and went to Las Islitas every day. The waves weren’t very big when we started, and they continued to sit down, with one day hardly any waves at all. After five or six days, though, a larger swell arrived, with the waves getting bigger and bigger over the rest of our time there. This was good for Lisa, as she could gradually get comfortable with larger waves, and great for me. This is my favorite spot that I’ve ever surfed at. When we first got here I kept getting great, long rides, one over half a mile — by far the longest ride I’ve gotten, and a wonderful feeling. This got harder as the swell dropped, but when it picked back up the riding got amazing. So many consistent, easy to catch waves, usually head high, and so many waves that I could ride for as long as I wanted.

What was especially nice about this break was the lack of crowds. When the swell was low Lisa and I were the only people out, and while the first day of high swell attracted about a dozen other surfers, after that things got pretty quiet again. And even when there were other people around, there were so many good waves and long rides that there was never any competition for waves.

The beach itself could get quite crowded, on weekends at least. Las Islitas was a prime spot for Mexicans out with the family for the weekend, and seeing hundreds of people coming in to play on the sand or in the waves or eat at the restaurants packing the beach was great and something we really haven’t seen anywhere else in Mexico.

After my time at Las Islitas I felt like a competent longboard surfer, able to catch almost anything I wanted and ride it how I wanted. I wasn’t just interested in Las Islitas, though. Closer to where we were anchored was another established break, Stoner’s Point, with larger and steeper waves than at Las Islitas. I started eyeing this once the swell increased, and went over a few times to try things on a smaller board. I did get a fair number of really good rides, but also kind of got my butt kicked. There’s just a point around when waves get a head and a half high that being caught by a breaking wave is really uncomfortable for me, and I pretty quickly get exhausted. I think this is mostly just that I don’t have much experience with this sort of wave, and I’m hoping to become a better surfer and able to handle these. There seems to me a huge contrast comparing the sublime feeling of a long ride on a longboard to the surge of adrenaline when getting up on a steep, powerful wave, and I would love to be able to fully enjoy both.

We didn’t really want to leave San Blas, but eventually it was time to move on. Around the end of March we left in the middle of the night for Isla Isabel, about forty miles away. We had been looking forward to visiting this island for a long time, and it did not disappoint. It is one of the most remarkable, unique places either of us has ever been.

After anchoring on the east side of the island we dinghied to a nearby fish camp and went ashore. There were several fishermen working on the beach, surrounded by hundreds of seabirds — lots of gulls and pelicans, but mostly frigatebirds. As we followed a path leaving the camp there were frigatebirds nesting all around us on the tops of short trees, just feet away from us. Lots of large iguanas and other lizards scampering around on the ground, and one frigatebird chick that was right on the trail (I guess it fell out of its nest, though I don’t know whether it was now doomed.) As we headed further up the trail we reached a light station and hundreds of boobies flying about. Some of them were nesting, which we tried to keep our distance from, but none of the other birds seemed put off by our presence. It’s amazing to spend so much time so close to them.

When we got back to Magic we did some snorkeling, and found good visibility of around 30′ and lots of fish. I checked out some areas where we could dive, and we went the next morning near Las Monas, two rock spires next to the anchorage. This was nice and mellow, about 30′ deep along a wall and with lots of fish and macro life.

We dove again at the Monas in the afternoon. The next morning I got up early and paddled my SUP around the island, looking for good spots for diving. When I got back to the boat we did a third dive at the southeast tip of the island. This was a bit deeper, and had a couple caves and tunnels and lots of fish.

After our last dive we went for another hike on the island, using a trail system that took us on a loop through the interior. We went through a couple more large groups of frigatebirds, saw more nesting boobies on the coast, found a nook with several tropicbirds flying about, which we hadn’t seen before. At one point I came across an adult frigatebird struggling in the grass; such a huge animal, and very awkward on land. I backed away from it, and tried to flatten some grass so it could escape more easily.

We had a good weather forecast at this point for crossing back to Baja, and after returning from this hike left immediately, motoring through the night. In a little over two and a half days we made our way to La Ventana, motoring the entire way, pleasant and uneventful.

It was good to be back in La Ventana. We were past the end of the kiting season at this point and almost everyone had left town. Lisa had been hoping to take more lessons here, and while Baja Joe’s still had a couple instructors, no one could teach from a jet ski as Lisa needed. There was some nice wind, though, and I went out twice over the next few days. This was fun, though on the second day I had a small accident where the kite powered up while drift launching from the boat. This was handled safely and I went kiting for a bit, but seeing this again took Lisa back to all the stress we had while launching from the boat earlier in the year. We decided to stop launching from the boat until Lisa had more experience and comfort with the sport, and left for La Paz the next morning so we could have some time to relax.

We stayed in La Paz for a little over a week. We arrived on the eve of Bayfest, a three day event organized by the city’s cruising community. We went to several seminars here, and it was good to see our friends. Afterwards things were pretty quiet; I did some work and a few boat projects, Lisa went to her exercise class in the morning, we did some jogging and would go and have drinks with friends in the evenings. Eventually we needed to leave, though, so we would have time to see some sights in the sea on our way to Guaymas to haul out.

On April 19 we left La Paz at 2am, motoring out on an ebb tide through the long navigational channel (which was easy to follow, except for one unlit buoy). After leaving the channel the wind picked up, and we were able to sail north another 40 miles to Isla San Francisco. We were here last year for a couple days, and wanted to spend some more time in this beautiful place.

We arrived in the late morning, and found calm conditions and clear water in the anchorage. We went out for a dive, which was one of the best of the season. All through the dive there were thousands of fish in loose shoals around the rocks, mostly smaller grunts but a fair number of bigger fish and one big school of surgeonfish. We also saw a large turtle nearby in the sand, though it left quickly.

We stayed the night and went hiking the next morning, using the same trail we had been on last year that runs along a ridge framing the anchorage. On the way up to the ridge, hundreds of pelicans and other seabirds started feeding on fish in the shallows nearby. I took this video of the intense action:

After a second dive — not as good, with lots of current — we stayed a second night at the island, taking our SUPs out near sunset once the wind was nearly dead. This was super relaxing, paddling in the flat calm and watching fish and other underwater life and all the great colors.

The next spot we wanted to visit after Isla San Francisco was Isla San Diego, 26 miles north, where we were hoping to do some diving (our friends had recommended it.) I wanted to get started in the middle of the night, like we’ve done in the past. Lisa didn’t like the early start when we left La Paz, though, and wanted to try leaving San Francisco at a more reasonable hour. She also wanted to run the boat for a day — doing all the work which I usually do like navigating and managing the engines and sails. It was calm when we got up in the morning and we left around 7am, with Lisa managing everything. This was a lot of fun for both of us, a big confidence booster for Lisa, and something we want to do more often in the future.

As we headed north to Isla San Diego, a wind eventually started filling in from the southeast. The island wouldn’t offer us much protection from the wind and is poorly charted anyhow, so we changed course and headed towards Bahia Agua Verde, 30 miles further on. We were sailing and making good time, but still had a long ways to go and wouldn’t be able to make it to Agua Verde before dark. We found a closer anchorage at Punta San Marte, arriving an hour or two before sunset. After this day, Lisa had a better understanding of why I like to leave anchorages at night. I’d much rather leave at night than risk arriving at night, and it’s more fun if we can actually do something in the afternoon instead of spending all day moving the boat.

San Marte was a pretty spot, though. We never went ashore, but the next morning went diving at a wash rock poking up a mile off the point. This was a really nice dive, with lots of macro life on a series of short walls.

After the dive we left the anchorage, motoring past Agua Verde and doing some sailing along the way. We were hoping to anchor at Bahia Candeleros for a few days, but weren’t able to get cell service here (though we had in the fall, strangely) so sailed north to Honeymoon Cove on Isla Danzante, our favorite anchorage from last spring’s trip north.

This was still a great place to spend time, and we stayed a few nights. We needed to hike ashore to get internet, but otherwise the spot was quiet and beautiful, with lots of activities. We went kayaking, SUP’ing, snorkeling, spearfishing (the first time for me in a month and a half), and did one dive on a rock near the island’s north tip.

I was hoping to spend another week or so in the sea before crossing to Guaymas, which would get us back to the US around a week into May. Lisa wanted to get to Guaymas earlier, in case we had delays storing the boat for the summer like we did last year. She called the marina we would be staying at and scheduled our haulout for the end of April, which would only give us a few more days before we needed to cross. This was fine of course, and to make the most of the time we had left we headed north to Punta Pulpito, a spot we had never been to which makes a convenient point to jump over to the mainland.

After motoring 45 miles in a flat calm the whole way (saw some dolphins, not much else of note) we reached the point, very dramatic with 400′ cliffs rising straight from the ocean. It’s a point unlike anything else we’ve seen in the sea, and we were pretty eager to go diving and see if the cliffs continued underwater. Alas, they didn’t; all around the point the bottom drops off gradually, and when we got in the water we found a big jumble of boulders spreading out from the point.

The topography wasn’t amazing, but the diving was excellent. There was a huge number, variety, and size of fish here, very active in the shallows especially. As we got into deeper water we found a lot of soft corals and macro life on the rocks.

After the dive we went ashore to hike to the top of the point, with a surprisingly nice trail and great views along the way.

We stayed the night, and did a second dive the next morning, with similar conditions to the first. Afterwards we didn’t have much reason to stay, and departed on the 90 mile trip to Guaymas. I was somewhat concerned before we left, as in the anchorage the wind started up just a few hours into the day.

As we left the lee of the point the wind quickly built to the low twenties. We were sailing, but not making good headway towards Guaymas. After a few hours we started motor sailing, which improved things, and late in the afternoon dropped the sails and motored in a calm. In the middle of the night the wind picked up again, though from a more favorable direction, and we sailed most of the rest of the way to Guaymas. The sea never did make up its mind. I was kind of on edge in the early part of the crossing, since conditions didn’t match the forecast and beating to windward wasn’t comfortable. Lisa felt OK about continuing, though, and on we went. After a while beating into the wind my paddleboard slipped off the front of the boat; it was attached to the boat but was not tied down, and by the time I noticed the pressure of the water had folded it in half. We’re still learning how to do this cruising thing, I guess.

Once we got to Guaymas things went smoothly. We spent a few days in the harbor and a slip working hard to get the boat ready for the summer, got hauled out on schedule and without any drama, then spent several more hours preparing the boat before taking a bus to Phoenix. This was April 30; we spent more than four months continuously in Mexico, and are looking forward to returning in the fall.

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