Turquoise water and white sand beaches, that’s what dreams are made of, right? Add a boat floating around on anchor off of that white sand beach, sunshine, some tropical fish darting about, fresh dorado on the table and our dream comes to life. Sound too good to be true? It’s not. I’ve just described the setting for this chapter of Red Rover’s adventures. We’ve arrived in the Sea of Cortez.
Over the last year, we’ve had many, many conversations about my milestone birthday in 2020. Where should we be on that day? What did I want to do? Who, what, where, why? We considered the options and settled on La Paz, against the advice of many well-meaning people who said things like, “It’s too cold, too windy, too early in the season, too far from an international airport (aka no one will come to see you), too this, that and the other thing.” Being the stubborn types that we are, we came here anyways. And we’re delighted that we did. We absolutely love La Paz. Here’s the story…
When we last left off, we were heading out of Ensenada de los Muertos eating blueberry muffins on the morning of our wedding anniversary. Cruising with Jeremy and Hilda on N76 Seacret, who have sailed this area extensively in the past, we pointed the bows north through Cerralvo Channel and up the east side of Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida. The idea with this plan was to maximize the stunning scenery and leverage a lovely flat sea. And a good plan it was! Espiritu Santo and its sister island Partida are absolutely stunning. The sandstone islands tell a story of the passing of time through bands of color, fallen rocks, sunken bays and a myriad of cacti growing out of an unforgiving desert landscape.
We settled in at Ensenada de Cardonal, a bay that reaches 1.5 miles into the island. A strong “Norther” – speedy winds from the north – was expected to arrive in the coming days, and the cliffs of Cardonal would provide some protection from the winds. A low point on the east side of the island does allow an opportunity for the Norther winds to sneak around and into the bay, but there isn’t any swell. We celebrated our anniversary with steak, a great Sonoma County Zin, happy dogs and a fair amount of nighttime wind after a journey to the white sand beach. Over the next few days we relaxed, explored the bay and the beaches, had a few dinner parties including one with the dorado (macadamia nut encrusted dorado with mango lime butter sauce), and experienced some more wind. The wind didn’t really bother us. It wasn’t like a PNW wind where the boat swings hard from one anchor stop to another with the familiar KA-chunk, KA-chunk noise. Rather, it was just a constant blow, keeping us in generally the same area with the bow into the wind. Sitting in the cockpit in the sun and out of the wind was delightful.
Jeremy and Hilda left us early one morning to head to La Paz and the wind stopped. Maybe they are the keepers of the wind? Just kidding. With their departure, we were alone in the bay.
But who was this on the VHF radio? A familiar voice… Jeff from N47 Igloo, one of our beloved Taco Runners! Jeff and Shannon and their super fun guests visited us in Cardonal and we then moved over to Caleta Partida where they were anchored to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a potluck on Red Rover. A great reunion! Jeff and Shannon then moved on to harbor hop and we had the good fortune to see Amanda and Dave pulling into the bay on their formidable vessel, Lahaina Sailor, a 58 Cape Horn. We had met Dave briefly when we crossed paths with the CUBAR in Ensenada, but now that we were all in the same anchorage we enjoyed getting to know one another with a hike on the beach and cocktails on Lahaina Sailor. Another fun evening in Caleta Partida!
While we were busy being social we also had our eagle eyes focused on an amazing anchorage between Cardonal and Partida. El Cardoncito is a stunning tiny bay with high cliffs, incredible sea life and its own private beach. Only one or two boats fit in this special spot. A 60’ sailboat occupied the anchorage and while we buzzed around them in our dinghy, we felt badly about disturbing their peace and quiet by sidling up next to them in Red. Oh hello! What, not so happy to see us? Um, no. So instead we peeked into Cardoncito daily with high hopes, only to be let down. But then it happened! On one silent and still morning, the sailboat left! YES! We rushed about tying the big dinghy to the stern, throwing the beach tender up on the swim step a bit haphazardly and rapidly pulling up anchor without any thought of washing it down. Neighboring boats probably thought we were being chased by a herd of bees given the speed at which we were moving. And it was all worthwhile. The anchorage was ours!
We spent the day camped out on the beach in our beach chairs, g&t’s in hand, kayaking, sunbathing, entertaining the doggos and blissing out. Oh, and flying the drone. Because, well, look at this place!
After a peaceful night that featured a star-filled sky and good red wine, we re-visited every nook of the anchorage and wished it farewell. It was time to head to Marina Cortez in La Paz and prepare for five days of fun with friends.
On Thursday, February 20th, my very longtime, most loved friends Debbie and Craig and their daughter Julia arrived from Massachusetts to celebrate my 50th birthday weekend. Now that I have been alive for 50 years I feel I am old enough to wax philosophic, right? In life we come across many people and personalities. But it is rare that we create friendships that last over 30 years. Friendships that can pick up where you last left off without a hint of awkwardness or uncertainty, with people who you know will always, always be a part of your life. I have known Craig since I was four years old, and Debbie since we were 19 and 20. Having them here in La Paz for my birthday was the best present a girl could ever ask for. Thanks guys. Love you so.
The city of La Paz apparently also was aware that I was turning 50 as they threw a big party for me, complete with rides, games, five stages of live music and three days of parades. Thoughtful, eh? Ha! La Paz’s Carnaval celebration and six days of incredible entertainment, community and loud, loud, loud music nicely coincided with my birthday. Timing is everything you know.
Just as Carnaval was cranking up we whisked Debbie, Craig and Julia back to Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida as the weather was looking spectacular for the beginning of their trip. We anchored at both Cardonal and (yes!) Cardoncito and enjoyed dinghy tours, kayaking, beach walking, eating, drinking Kevin’s great cocktails and hanging out. After everyone had a little bit of sunburn we turned back to La Paz, with some excitement on the way. Even though Julia assured Kevin he would never catch a fish, he did! Another nice dorado came on board, ensuring a spectacular dinner for the night ahead!
Back in La Paz it was time to engage in Carnaval. Of course! We played some silly games and pondered the safety of the rides, ate filled churros, watched people and found ourselves in the middle of a giant crowd watching an incredibly popular “Bando” Mexican musical group. We seemed to be the only ones who did not know all the words to every song!
While many of the towns we have visited in this trip have had a very high percentage of gringos – both Americans and Canadians, La Paz has a very high percentage of Mexicans. This was super apparent at Carnaval where we saw very, very few Caucasian folks. It was awesome to be a part of a Mexican celebration!
The next day dawned and I turned 50. Fifty! It seems impossible to me that I have reached this esteemed age. In the past, Kevin and I have often been on the younger side of boat owners, both with our last boat and with Red Rover. In fact, we joked and called our little sub-50 group, “the kids’ table.” It seems that I’m aging out of the kids’ table! Seriously though, how fortunate am I to be living this incredible life, exploring the world in our boat? At 50 nonetheless. Incredibly fortunate.
My 50th birthday was amazing. Kevin, Craig, Debbie, Julia and I started the day with the whale sharks that call the La Paz area home. Juvenile whale sharks live in a sort of nursery off of El Magote, the peninsula across from the city of La Paz. The whale sharks stay in these shallow waters until they are a few years old when they move off to deep water. The whale sharks are most unusual sharks as they do not have teeth. These gentle giants filter feed and breathe through their gills, and as such are not whales which are mammals and need to surface to breathe air. They are incredible and snorkeling with them was an unforgettable experience. I didn’t actually take any photographs, so I’ve included one that I borrowed here to showcase these amazing creatures.
The whale shark experience is highly controlled in a very Mexican sort of way. First, you cannot take your own boat out to the whale shark area and you must go with a guide and a boat driver who both have certifications to be with the whale sharks. The number of snorkeling boats is limited to 15 at a time. How, you might ask? A story will tell the tale. We were told to arrive for our 8 am trip at 7:40 am. Upon our arrival we signed liability release forms and were hustled into life jackets, SEMARNAT wrist bands (which allowed us to be in the area which is overseen by the national park agency) and urged to quickly board the panga. We then scooted over to float off the end of a long pier awaiting the official who would inspect the panga’s paperwork, our life jackets and our wristbands. The goal was to be at the pier prior to 8 am when the official would count off the first 15 boats. Any boat arriving AFTER the first 15 boats would need to wait, with their guests onboard, for up to 2 hours to go into the whale shark area. So getting there was important! We were boat #1, and to celebrate we high-fived all around. We were impressed with the civility and honesty between pangas. Each driver and guide were clear on the order of arrival and no one tried to argue or jump the line. After being cleared, we returned to the marina to don wetsuits and to gather up our snorkeling gear. The panga then left the beach once more to sit and wait by the point on the peninsula. At 9 am the first 15 pangas were allowed into the whale shark area. We chose to do our tour with Baja Desconcida, which operates out of the Marina Cortez complex where we are moored. Our guide, Stephanie was a marine biologist, and Jose, our driver, was a master at spotting the whale sharks. Stephanie would slip into the water and ensure all was well, then called for us to follow suit. We had four awesome dives with the whale sharks including one where I put my mask in the water only to see the whale shark heading right toward me! I have never swum backwards quite so fast!
Swimming with the whale sharks involves keeping up with them. As they are sharks they have to constantly be moving. And so were we! This created a great hunger which led us to a restaurant that we call “the meat place” as they serve 1 KG platters of meat and all of the fixins to make tacos – al pastor, arracherra, pollo, you name it. The five of us devoured our lunch and then set about town wandering the streets, drinking coffee and becoming more familiar with La Paz. In the evening we watched the beginning of the first day of Carnaval parades and marveled at the huge crowd and the great fun being had by, well, everyone! The evening ended with an incredible dinner at a seriously wonderful restaurant, Las Tres Virgenes along with the Nordie crew – Igloo, Partida and Seacret all joined for a festive and fun night. I went to bed feeling like quite the special girl.
Debbie, Craig and Julia sadly left us the next day and Kevin and I committed ourselves to wandering La Paz and eating our weight in awesome food. Happily, our friends and fellow Taco Runners, Hugo and Michelle (N55 Gitana), who love food as much as we do, showed up to join in the grazing. Fun! La Paz is a food kind of town, in fact, we think it has the most delicious dining of any Mexican community we have been to so far. From pasta to pizza to Mexican specialties to fish, La Paz does it all, and does it well.
Carnaval of course, was not yet over! Two nights of fun remained and with each night, more parades. I love parades, likely due to the super local and fun 4th of July parade in Needham, Massachusetts where I grew up. It was my favorite day of the year as a child.
The La Paz Carnaval parades celebrate all of the things that Mexicans love, and that La Paz highlights as a community: food, loud music, dance, art, community, diversity, nature, more loud music, more dance, family and much more loud music. If Mexicans usually “turn it up to 11,” they found a new setting for Carnaval – at least a 13! On Monday evening we enjoyed the parade with our walktails (in red and Seahawks solo cups of course) and the company of the crews of Igloo and Partida. So. Much. Fun. I’ll let the photos and videos provide the description.
For some reason some of these videos won’t load with the correct orientation. Sorry. Hold phone sideways.
With Carnaval over, we had to get back to a bit of reality – boat projects and reprovisioning for the next leg of our trip where access to shops would be quite limited. We plan to be anchored for about the next month. To make provisioning a little easier we rented a car for a few days, allowing us to hit the stores and also see a bit more of La Paz. One day we headed out of town to see the beaches at Playa Ballandra and Playa Tecolote. Ballandra was packed to the whale shark gills, so we visited Tecolote. Stunning scenery but a swarm of flies and bees drove us away after a quick snack.
With more Topo Chico in the cabinets and meat in the freezer, we were back to boat projects, one of which was to add some fuel to Red Rover. Our last fuel purchase was in San Diego and we were down to approximately 650 gallons. After calculating our fuel burn with both cruising and running our two generators (one at a time), we determined that we would likely burn another 900 gallons of fuel in the coming two and a half months. It is interesting, we will likely use more fuel in the generators than in cruising about 800 miles. We run the generator to run our watermaker, to recharge the batteries, to run the oven, the dryer, etc. Each day at anchor we probably use roughly 8 gallons of fuel to support the generators. The small generator (6kw) of course is more fuel efficient than the big one (20kw), but it still has a thirst.
We understand that there are two fuel docks here in La Paz, but one has reports of a very shallow entry. As such we fueled up at Costa Baja, a resort/marina at the entrance to the La Paz channel. The late Steve Jobs’ boat, Venus, was in the house as was Stephen Spielberg’s yacht. Quite the neighborhood. Fuel in La Paz is expensive, as it seems to be everywhere in Mexico. We paid $4.74 a gallon (USD) for the 800 gallons we added to Red.
Since we were in the groove with improvement projects, it seemed that we should also be improving ourselves! As such, Kevin and I spent a week going to El Nopal Spanish Language School. Our friends Gwen and Larry on N50 Miss Miranda had recommended the school and we were delighted to be engaged and learning. Our spanish is getting better…. I am probably speaking much like a four year old, but we both understand so much more than when we arrived here. One of the side benefits of school was the daily walk in La Paz. We would Uber to school (it started at 8 am afterall) and walk about 40 minutes home each day, taking a different path. This city is just lovely. And its people are beyond friendly. I could live here.
One important boat project that had to be addressed prior to cruising into the Sea of Cortez involved our big dinghy. The steering column on the outboard, the part that the outboard pivots on, was packed with years of old grease. Even though we greased it regularly, the steering was super stiff and constrained, creating a great concern about the steering cable and its potential to break/fail. After talking to multiple boat yards/chandleries in town (La Paz has a good number), we completed our scavenger hunt at a boat yard belonging to a gentleman named Hector. Hector’s boat yard had a series of pangas, Boston Whalers and other outboard driven boats sitting in it. It also had a group of lovely people grilling and gathering at a folding table in one corner. Upon our arrival Hector was out of the office, but “would be right back, driving a white car.” Sit, sit, we were told. And so we did. Lolita, a lady in her 70s I would say, began to chat with us and after awhile, felt that she needed to feed us! Hector’s extended family and friends, with brothers, sister-in-laws, friends, friends’ grown kids and a blind dog came together under a tree with a virtual smorgasbord of food that continued to stream out of Hector’s shop. We started with “oh eat just a little cake,” and moved onto carnitas, a yummy zucchini, tomato, corn and cheese dish, baked potatoes (cooked on the grill), tortillas and more. It was literally one of the best meals I have ever eaten. But the best part was that this family took us in and made us a part of their world. We ate and chatted in English, Spanish and Spanglish, learning about their family and their history together. We discussed why some Americans don’t like Mexicans (our opinion – lack of personal experience with Mexico/Mexicans), and how varied regions of the US have different behaviors and customs. After everyone had eaten, Hector came over to talk with us about the outboard. With a plan to return on Friday morning, we hugged Lolita, waved goodbye to our new family, promised to keep in touch, and walked back down the street, delighted with the experience we just had. THIS is what we wanted when we started cruising – a real connection with people in foreign ports.
On Friday morning, Kevin took the dinghy to the boat launch at Marina La Paz, the marina next to ours. Hector met him with a truck and a trailer and hauled the dinghy back to the yard. The solution for the grease involved heat – well fire really. The photos below tell the story. The dinghy is fixed!
And all of this brings us to today. We’re getting ready to leave La Paz (as soon as Kevin figures out why the washer doesn’t want to work) and head north into the gorgeous and cell-service-free Sea of Cortez. We can’t wait!