Friday, May 27, 2011

Bahia de Concepcion

The days are rolling by ever so quickly and we have many miles to go, and many places to see before we say adios to Mexico. So we have hurried along on our voyage, reaching Bahia de Concepcion on May 17th. Our route from San Evaristo took us to Bahia Agua Verde for a night, then to Puerto Escondido for a couple of days. From there we went to Caleta San Juanico, where we anchored again for just a night.  We then anchored in Bahia de Concepcion in a small cove between Playa Santispac and Posada Concepcion.
At Puerto Escondido there is a large and very well protected lagoon with at least a hundred moorings, a fuel dock, tienda and other amenities including internet access, which is rare in this part of the world. We took advantage of all of these as well as the fine restaurant there.

Dawn in Puerto Escondido

After a couple of days at Puerto Escondido, we continued north another forty miles to Caleta San Juanico. Arriving there around 1600, we got the hook down in about 30 feet of water and had a nice swim before dinner. At roughly 26 degrees north latitude, San Juanico is far enough north that there is a bit of coolness in the air in the evenings, which is a refreshing change from the dry heat of La Paz.

San Juanico sunrise
 Our next destination, Playa Santispac, about 55 miles from San Juanico, is located inside of the large Bahia de Concepcion. The Honcho got an early start, motorsailing into a building breeze. By noon the wind and seas had built to the point where we were getting spray over the dodger, with the promise of more to come as we approached Punta de Concepcion, which lies at the entrance to the bay.  Fortunately our course was northwest and the wind and seas were from NNE, so we weren’t too uncomfortable as we worked up the coast.  Around 1600, just as we cleared Punta Concepcion, the reel lit up and we caught a nice 6 pound yellowtail, which we’ll barbecue for dinner.

The Honcho trolling with a Mexican lure. It's called a Mexican because it is red, green and yellow; The same colors as the Mexican flag. We've had the most luck with this lure, hooking innumerable Jacks, yellowfin, even a striped marlin.
 Bahia de Concepcion is open to the north, so after clearing the entrance the Honcho bore off and had a quick downwind run in 20 knots of wind toward Playa Santispac. As we approached Santispac we could see the north wind raking through the anchorage so we continued a bit further to a small cove just east of Posada de Conception and dropped the anchor in 20 feet of water, about 60 yards from shore.  With steep hills to our north coming right down to the water’s edge, we are well protected from the wind. 

An eighteen foot whale shark glides past the boat in Santispac. The fin to the left is the dorsal, to the right is the tail.

Bahia de Concepcion is about 20 miles long and roughly 4 miles wide. It is dotted with many small islands and is home to a wide range of birds and marine life.  After a nice dinner ashore and a good night’s rest, we were up early the next morning, cleaning accumulated salt off the boat and rigging. Suddenly we were distracted by a slight commotion in the water and discovered a couple of whale sharks lazily feeding next to the boat. We watched and photographed them for a while then donned mask and fins and joined them for a swim. Whale sharks feed on plankton and other small sea life and don’t pose a predatory threat to humans.  We dove under water and could see the massive fins and gaping mouths of these animals as they passed by close enough to touch. Predatory or not, swimming that close to such a large animal was exciting!

Kayaker stalks a big one
This shark is about 18 feet long and has a wingspan of about eight feet, near as I could estimate. Whale sharks feed at or near the surface of the water, drawing large gulps of seawater, then expelling it out through their large gills, which have filtering elements that strain out the plankton and other small sea life. The water in Bahia de Concepcion is full of nutrients, which makes underwater visibility not nearly as good as at places like Isla San Francisco.

Playa Santispac is pretty much the boonies and there are no services here…no taxis, internet, cell phones, or gas stations. In need of diesel fuel, we took a couple of jerry cans and wandered up the beach, trusting that somehow we’d find a way to get to the nearest gas station, thirteen miles up the road. Sure enough, before long we’d hitched a ride on an old beat up water truck that took us all the way to the Hotel Serenidad where we had a fine lunch of fish tacos, guacamole and ice cold beer. We then got the fuel and a ride back to the beach in Santispac, where we’d left our dinghy. From there it was a short mile back to the boat.  
The next day we were again visited by the whale sharks, but didn’t swim with them as we had plans to visit the town of Mulege, where we spent most of the day touring this flood ravaged town and socializing. Mulege suffered a direct hit by Hurricane Jimena a couple of years ago. Much of the town was damaged or destroyed by the storm, which caused the Rio Mulege to overflow its banks, washing a good portion of the town into the sea. There are still many signs of destruction in this pleasant little village.

Bahia de Concepcion is as far north as we will get on this voyage. So when we weighed anchor Saturday morning, May 21st, we were southbound, headed back toward San Juanico, where we spent a couple of days.  It was a delightful sail during which we were able to fly the spinnaker for a few miles before the wind shifted to the southeast and we were forced to set the trusty jib for the last twenty miles.  Along the way we caught an 8 pound yellowtail, which we barbecued with friends from the sailing vessels Stray Cat and Capriccio in Caleta San Juanico. San Juanico is a fairly large bay, with good protection from northerly and southerly winds, but is open to the southeast, which is where the wind has been for the last couple of days, forcing us to shift to a snug anchorage in the lee of some large rocks in the northern reach of the bay. There are dramatic rock formations here, a beautiful freshwater lagoon and a kind of shrine or monument where passing yatistas put up plaques and inscriptions made of anything from old sandals to beautifully carved wood, usually with a boat and crew names and dates. It was interesting to see the names of many boats we’ve come to know hanging in the tree that makes up the shrine.  This passage is the first of the truly homeward bound portion of our voyage. We’ll continue south to Cabo San Lucas, stopping at various places along the way, where we’ll provision and secure the boat for the last long leg of our voyage, the long windward passage up the west coast of Baja to our home port of Long Beach. 

The volcanic rocks in San Juanico. Fantastic colors and shapes

It was surprising to see this sparkling freshwater lagoon just a short walk from the beach in an otherwise torrid desert landscape.

Monday, May 23, 2011

San Evaristo

The Honcho sailed from Isla San Francisco on Wednesday, May 11th. We had planned to head directly for the village of San Evaristo on the coast of Baja, but at the last minute decided to detour to Isla Coyote, a tiny island that lies between Isla San Francisco and Isla San Jose, only about 2 miles away.  The wind was blowing out of the northwest about 15-18 knots and the only anchorage at Isla Coyote is an open  roadstead and completely exposed to the prevailing wind and seas.  With unfavorable conditions at Isla Coyote, we bypassed it and proceeded on to Bahia Amortajada, on the southern tip of Isla San Jose, only three or four miles further. Sailing in company with two other boats, Blue Rodeo & Swift Current, we came to anchor on the south side of the sand spit that makes the bay in about 15 feet of water.  We had heard about an interesting lagoon here and quickly jumped into Blue Rodeo’s dinghy and found the entrance to the lagoon, which was only about a foot deep so we lifted the engine and walked the boat through the pass and entered the lagoon.  Once inside the lagoon we motored up the estuary, which was teeming with fish and birds of many varieties.  After an hour or so, we returned to our boats and prepared to cross the Canal de San Jose to the village of San Evaristo.
Looking west from the lagoon on Isla San Jose across the channel toward the mainland of Baja and the Sierra de la Giganta mountains.
Wildlife in the lagoon, Isla San Jose
When we cleared the southern tip of Isla San Jose, the wind piped up to 20-22 knots with steep 4 foot seas. Punching into this, the Honcho could just make about 4 knots, with spray flying.  It was only about 7 miles to San Evaristo so we soldiered on, a bit dampish but enjoying the view of the white flecked sea.   Around 1600 we came to anchor in a snug cove just off the village of San Evaristo, well in the lee of some steep hills.

San Evaristo is typical of many fishing villages that dot the Baja coast, with a small tienda, beer ‘Collectivo’ (where you can buy beer), small water desalinization plant, and a small elementary school. All of which serve the twenty or so families living here as well as the salt farmers and rancheros who live in the surrounding area.  One day we walked over the hill behind the village and came to the salt ponds, a mile or so away. It was a sweaty walk on the dusty road under the blazing sun. On the way we shared the dirt road with wild burros and hardy Mexican cattle. Skittish at first, the burros eventually relaxed enough to pose for a couple of photos. Looking out over the salt pans, I saw a lone worker in the distance raking salt into piles. He looked miserable in the hot sun with his rake and vast piles of salt around him.
Salt ponds at San Evaristo
These burros darted into a thicket when we surprised them coming around a bend in the road. Once we passed by, they came back onto the road, watching us and following about 50 yards behind us.
We saw several of these critters browsing on the steep hillsides near where we anchored.

Cardon Cactus
It seems like cactus grows everywhere in Baja. The Cardon, one of the most noticeable, is a remarkable plant...or tree. It is thought to be the tallest cactus species in the world, reaching more that 60 feet high. Natives of the area use the fruit of the Cardon as a food source. It also is known to contain alkaloids, and is reputed to have psychotropic properties. We didn't try any, as food or drug. These cacti can apparently grow on bare rock because their roots provide a haven for certain bacteria and fungi that can extract nitrogen from the air and chemically break down rock to extract nutrients. Pretty cool stuff.

We spent a couple of days in tranquil San Evaristo, then headed north toward the green waters of a place called Agua Verde (Green Water). We'll see.
A calm day in the Sea of Cortez, northwest of Isla San Jose.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Isla San Francisco

The Isthmus on Isla San Francisco. The island in the background is Isla San Jose, about 5 miles away.

Isla San Francisco is like a jewel in the sea. Only about two miles long and less than a mile wide, it encompasses a beautiful cove on the south side and, across a small isthmus, another picturesque bay on its eastern shore. The isthmus, which is only a couple hundred yards wide, divides the high northern end of the island from the craggy cliffs to the south. It lies at 24 degrees, 50 minutes north and 110 degrees, 34.50 minutes west. If you Google it, you’ll enjoy the aerial views of this place.
Boats anchored in the "Hook".

The Honcho anchored a couple hundred yards off the beach in the southern cove, known as the Hook, in crystal clear water. As soon as we secured the boat, we jumped in for a refreshing swim before joining friends on another boat for cocktails. The following day a group of eight or ten of us climbed to the ridge on the southern edge of the island and were rewarded with splendid views of the boats at anchor below and the dramatically striped cliffs across the channel on the mainland to the west and on Isla San Jose to the north.
Ridge trail on the south side of the island. Isla San Jose in the background.

After a couple of days of sun, swimming and relaxing, we’re now ready to get underway tomorrow morning, bound for the village of San Evaristo, on the coast of mainland Baja. There we’ll pick up some fresh fruits and vegetables, if any are available, then leave the following morning for points north. 

Isla Espiritu Santo

The Honcho remained in La Paz three days longer than planned due to strong northerlies that blew 25 to 35 knots down the Sea of Cortez May 2-4. On Tuesday, May 5th we cleared Punta Prieta and headed toward Puerto Balandra, planning to anchor there for the night, before heading north to Isla Espiritu Santo. There was still a large swell left over from the northerly blow which made Balandra an uncomfortable anchorage.  So we continued north across the San Lorenzo Channel and up the west side of the island. We looked in at Bahia San Gabriel on the southeast corner of the island, but being open to the south and west, it is not a good place to be when the Coromuel winds blow, so we continued north another four miles over a lumpy sea to a small inlet called Ensenada de la Raza, which is well protected from the north swell. 
The Honcho coasted into the cove and prepared to anchor in about 18 feet of water. As we rounded the boat into the wind and came to a stop I pressed the switch on the anchor windlass and nothing happened.  As it would soon be dark, I quickly got out the spare chain and rode and within a few minutes we were safely anchored in the cove and sitting in the cockpit with a glass of wine and watching the sunset while I pondered the windlass malfunction. We were planning to spend the next six weeks anchoring in at least a dozen places and I did not relish the idea of using our backup ground tackle without a windlass instead of the high strength chain in a bunch of remote places.  So, reluctantly, I decided we’d have to return to La Paz to get it repaired.
After a peaceful night on the backup ground tackle, early the next morning we headed back to La Paz, taking a berth in the Marina de La Paz, which is right near downtown, where all the stores and chandleries are located. I tore into the windlass and quickly discovered that the wiring had corroded and used the rest of the day to find some heavy gauge marine wire and rewired the system. We spent the night in the Marina and departed the next day, anchoring for the night in Puerto Balandra.

The next morning we got under sail around 1100, bound for Caleta Partida, which is a beautiful anchorage nestled between the northern tip of Isla Espriritu Santo and the southern tip of Isla Partida. It was a beautiful sail under light winds and a perfectly flat sea.  We came to anchor in three fathoms in the southeast reach of the bay, where there is good protection from the Coromuel wind, which amounted to about 20 knots that night.

We spent the next couple of days exploring the bay and a couple of nearby coves. I took a lot of photos but the camera can’t really capture the stark majesty of the scenery here. The landscape is desert, with a variety of cactus and other flora. The sea is filled with a variety of tropical fish and other sea life, which makes snorkeling a fascinating voyage of discovery every time we don mask and fins.  With temperatures on the boat in the eighties, and warmer ashore, our routine is to go ashore in the early part of the day, take a swim and siesta during the hotter midday, and, as often as not, socialize with the other yatistas who happen to be in the anchorage around sunset.  

On Sunday, May 8th, the Honcho cleared the mouth of Caleta de Partida, short tacking in a light westerly breeze, on a course toward the small Isla San Francisco, about 21 miles away.  As the day wore on the wind shifted first to the northeast, then south, and eventually died and we motored the last seven miles, anchoring at the Hook at 1445.  Along the way we caught two small skipjacks, which we released, and narrowly avoided hitting a Blue whale that, seemingly oblivious to the Honcho, crossed our bow about 40 feet away.  The Blue whales, of which we’ve seen a few since entering the Sea, are different from the exuberant Humpbacks that we experienced earlier in the year.  Reportedly the largest animal ever to live on this planet, the northern hemisphere Blue can reach a length of about 100 feet and weigh up to 400,000 pounds. It feeds by taking a massive gulp of seawater then using its tongue to force it out through its baleen which acts as a strainer, thus capturing tons of krill and other small sea life.  While capable of high speeds, they usually travel at speeds of four knots or less, so the Honcho, which moves faster than that, must take care not to overrun one of these animals. 

It was a pleasant passage to Isla San Francisco, where we remained a few days enjoying the hiking, swimming and company of friends.  

Friday, May 6, 2011


Over the last several months I have had the opportunity to see a wide variety of boats that people are  cruising aboard and one of the nicest, to my eye is the J/130. I like it because it is a very good looking boat with excellent performance and pretty good accommodations. It also is well built, using technology that you would find in many racing yachts. Of course this type of boat is not every cruiser's dreamboat since it is rare to see a J/130 actually on a long distance cruise. There are a lot more Island Packets and boats of that type out cruising than truly high performance yachts like the J/130. I recommend you visit the J-Boats web site at  or for more detailed information, but here are some basic dimensions and ratios:

Length overall: 42.7'
Beam: 12.8'
Draft: 8.5' or 6.9'
Displacement: 15,000 pounds
Sail area: 955 sq ft
Disp/Length: 120
Sail area/disp: 25

Notice the two ratios, Disp/Length and Sail area/disp. The first indicates the displacement of the boat relative to its length and is useful for comparing different boats. The higher the number, the heavier the boat is relative to its length. The typical cruising boat we see here in Mexico has a D/L well over 200. By comparison, a D/L of 120 is a borderline Ultralight, or ULDB, and boats with this number are invariably high performance boats. The SA/D is an indicator of the size of the sailplan relative to the boat's displacement. The typical cruising boat has a SA/D in the range of 12 to 18. Racing yachts generally have an SA/D of 20 and up. So, clearly, the J/130 could be described as a lightweight sportscar with a big engine. That translates into good light air performance and high speeds in heavy air. The question is whether that makes it a good cruising boat.

The J/130's hull is clearly designed for speed. That's a good thing because nearly everyone wants to make fast passages. But cruisers also want comfort and heavier boats have a more comfortable motion than lighter weight boats both at anchor and under way. The rather low freeboard of this hull certainly looks sleek, and makes boarding a bit easier, but the trade-off is less room below and a bit more water on deck, especially headed upwind. The boat's deep keel will keep it on its feet, but will also limit access to areas where shallower draft boats can go. I think six to seven feet of draft is about the maximum that is convenient. I'm not saying that 8.5' is unacceptable, you'll just have to be more selective about where you go in a boat with that much draft.

I like boats with good light air performance and the J/130's rig has all the horsepower needed to make the boat go in the light stuff. Conditions here in Mexico are often light, and it's a nice feeling to be able to sail when the other cruising boats are wallowing.  Of course there is a downside to the J's powerful rig. The mainsail is quite big and would be a handful for a shorthanded crew. Also, you'll be shifting gears more with a light boat, reefing the main and changing jibs more frequently. People say you can partially roll up the jib if it's on a furler, but partially furled jibs don't set well. If I were cruising aboard this boat I'd set it up with a 110% jib on the furler and accept the compromise in light air performance.

Cruising is really about living aboard and while there are many 42 footers that have a lot more living space below, I think the J/130's accommodations are pretty good, if relatively Spartan, for a couple with an occasional one or two guests aboard. Notice in the accommodations plan that the area forward of the main bulkhead is devoted to a large owner's stateroom with plenty of storage space and a semi-private head. The head is accessible from the main cabin, but that access looks iffy to me, as you have to work your way around the large dropleaf table to get to it. The galley is smallish but adequate. I'd prefer not to have the stove up against the bulkhead as it makes cooking a bit more difficult. Aft of the galley is a small cabin which would be converted to a storage room by most who would cruise this boat. Opposite the galley is a nav station. The drawings show it with the seat facing forward but the photos I found on Yachtworld show it facing outboard. I'd prefer the forward facing arrangement but it looks like lack of space could have played a part in the decision to make the change. Aft of the nav station is a private quarter cabin with what looks like a good sized double berth.

Tankage and stowage space are issues that long term cruisers would have to come to terms with. A watermaker and an extra fuel bladder would make life aboard more pleasant. But I like that trade-off in exchange for better performance and the clean good looks of the boat.

Spartan but reasonable cruising accommodations

I think the deck layout of the J/130 is nearly ideal for a performance cruising boat. Side decks are wide, the cabin trunk is low and unobtrusive, and the cockpit is big enough for spending a lot of time in, which is what cruisers do. The lack of an anchor locker in the bow would be problematic and I'd put one in if I owned this boat. Another essential item is a swim platform aft. I like step-thru transoms but the arrangement here offers lots of space on the transom and still provides a good sized lazarette.

Overall, this boat has a lot to offer the cruising yachtsman who places high priority on performance. It would make a great boat for shorter term cruises, but I know of at least one J/130 whose owners  have been cruising aboard for quite a long time and are very happy with their boat.

J/130 anchored in Bahia de los Muertos