Chilling in Baja
Winters and springs, they visit the bays and anchorages of this immensely delightful cruising ground. Come summer, when temperatures soar and hurricanes threaten, they hole up; one year, it was in San Carlos, another, in San Pedro.
Their cruising schedule for this past season was iffy, except that they planned to visit Loreto Fest-they'd last stopped by in 2007-and they wanted to summer over again in San Carlos, a well-protected harbor on mainland Mexico. Other than that, they occasionally sail but mostly motor until they find a bay they like, and then they stay until they find a reason to move on.
Patsy hadn't been a boat person before they met, but she clearly possesses seafaring genes. Their boat is both homey and tidy, and as we traveled over the next few days, she was constantly reading the charts and cruising guides to be ready for the next cove or bay.
The anchorage that night was in Bahía Salinas, where fish tacos were served, compliments of Kurt's angling efforts during his delivery sail. The next morning, everyone headed to shore for a visit to the salt pond where workers had once harvested salt; the operation and the nearby village had been abandoned in the 1980s. Roy, Debi, and Lori all waded out into the briny water and floated on their backs, their bodies hyper-buoyant because of the salinity.
I sailed with them on their borrowed 1160, Cubo Lista, for the afternoon trip around Isla Carmen to V Cove, where we anchored between steep rock walls and swam amid the seeming millions of baitfish that were lunch to hordes of diving pelicans.
Roy, a longtime multihull sailor, is a friend and customer of Kurt's who'd recently ended a tryst with a Catalina 36, having traded it in for a new 1160 that he keeps in San Diego. As we sailed north and Roy took in more and more of the Baja scenery, he started rolling out scenarios of how his own boat might find its way to the Golfo de California, or Sea of Cortez, as many call it, in the not-too-distant future. For the time being, though, he was enjoying introducing Debi to the stability and comforts of sailing a catamaran and to the finer points of Catalina Island.
The next morning, I was up early and ready when Moon Drifter's skipper, Ralph Marx, came in a dinghy to fetch me for breakfast. Back aboard his boat, his wife, Helen, had tacos, eggs, fruit, and coffee waiting. Ralph, soon to turn 78, and Helen are something of a legend amongst this band of Baja cruisers. They'd been all but ready two years earlier to give up the cruising life and move ashore into a condo. After all, they'd been making the trek to Baja from their home in Wickenburg, Arizona, for a dozen or more years, sailing each season on their 1978 Buccaneer 28-footer. Ralph admits that he was getting tired of hoisting the sails and hauling the anchor by hand, and the camping-out nature of life on the modest boat was taking its toll. Then they met John and Patsy by chance in an anchorage and went to visit them on their catamaran.
"Our eyes lit up," says Helen. "'We can handle this boat,' we said."
So the 1160 Moon Drifter, with its electric winches and windlass, became their condo on the water. Or, as Ralph puts it, "This is just a mobile home that gets us to the snorkeling," which is a favorite pastime of Helen's when the two of them aren't out paddling their inflatable kayaks. The two are quite gregarious. During our visit to the salt pond, it had been Ralph who'd served as tour director and resident historian. And as we ate our breakfast, he fired up the SSB to join the morning net.
Their short-term destination was the Saturday-night dance party at Loreto Fest; Ralph came to the 1950s-themed affair with a rubber duck tied to his head, and Helen wore a poodle skirt. Long-term? Well, that's hard to say.
"My favorite anchorage is the one I'm in," said Helen.
Rounding out our little band was the crew aboard Gato Loco, a Seawind 1000 that's owned by four partners, including Lowell and Frankie McCulley (and their hound, Neely) and Bill Hensler, all from around Phoenix, Arizona, though they now have homes in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, where the boat's kept in the summer. Lowell is a retired computer guy, and Frankie can schedule customers at her hair salon so she has plenty of time off to cruise. Bill, a house builder, can set his own schedule. And so the three, along with their partners and assorted friends-like crewmember Kerri Fahey, visiting from Australia; she's a 1000 owner, too, and the partner of Richard Ward, who owns Seawind Catamarans-take turns on the boat and explore the Sea of Cortez in a yearly cruise split up into eight legs. The partners have been making the trip each year since 2003. For the McCulleys and Bill, their favorite cruising ground is the area stretching north and south from Loreto.
"We try to linger a little longer," says Lowell, who did double duty as the photographer of the rendezvous. "There are so many places to see, you're passing anchorages after anchorages."
And that's what keeps all of these cruisers coming back year after year. The lucky devils.
Mark Pillsbury, when not quarantined for swine flu, is the editor of Cruising World.