Sea Bees

Embracing the bees aboard in the Sea of Cortez

September 16, 2014
Del Viento Eleanor bees
Eleanor was brave when there were only a few bees. There are no such pics of when there were several hundred here. Michael Robertson

They were the same bees that all the summertime Sea of Cortez veterans warned us about. We’d been told about or read about the bees at least a dozen times.

Yet, for some reason, as we headed north in to the Sea of Cortez to anchor off a few of the more than 200 islands, islets, and coastal areas identified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the idea of bees on our boat—lots of bees on our boat—seemed abstract. I mean, what’s that even like?

Apparently, the islands or unpopulated coastal areas of Baja have extensive resident bee populations. (Which blows my mind because, why? What’s there to pollinate? I guess cactus…and shrubs…and post-rain wildflowers. But the place just seems inhospitable to anything other than rattlesnakes and scorpions. Bees?) Apparently these insects are ravenously thirsty and will seek out the slightest bit of fresh water aboard yachts anchored a hundred yards from shore and who-knows-how-far from the hive.


Usually the bee warnings we got came with a favored approach for dealing with said bees.

“Kill the scouts, the first bees you see, kill them—kill, kill, kill! The others will never learn you are there.”

No, not going to kill bees.


Our summers-in-the-Sea veterans aboard Eyoni offered a more thoughtful approach, with a dash of bee psychology: “You see, bees are cleithrophobes, they have a real fear of being trapped. When you see any bees in your cabin, don’t shoo them, lock them in, close the companionway and ports and watch them. As soon as you see that they realize there is no exit, as soon as you see fear in their eyes, open everything back up and they’ll take off and not return. Works every time.”

Others insist it’s about the control of water. “You can’t have a drop aboard, not a drop. Make sure your boat is no more appealing than the dry, dusty desert they came from. If you wash your hands in the sink, follow with a salt water sink rinse, dry your hands completely, and then put the now-damp towel you used into a Ziploc bag—and hide it.”

Others insist it’s about providing the water the bees are after, but in a controlled way. “Put a sponge in a bowl of water and leave it on the bow, that’ll draw all the bees up there and away from you.”


None of this advice was reassuring, the sum of it left us all rather wondering what was in store for us, how bad would this be?

We were anchored in Puerto Ballandra, on Isla Carmen, near Loreto, when the bees found us. It was one, then two, then more and more and more, down below, invaders, hunting for water along every surface, all around us, the numbers increasing and increasing. “Sit down—carefully!—if you keep moving, you’re bound to step on one.” Windy cautioned the girls. Fortunately, all of us are pretty bug and insect savvy, we all kept our cool.

But it felt like a train robbery. One minute, everything is normal, the next we’re sitting still, at the mercy of these smart, stinging insects. Just do what they say and give them all your water.


I didn’t realize how much water we had down below. There was the glass of the stuff sitting on the table, buried in bees. There was the damp sponge sitting next to the sink, now a big, black bee rectangle. There was the drop hanging from the tap from which several bees nursed. There were more drops in the sink and a ring of moisture around the drain. There was water on the galley sole where one of the girls had dripped after washing her hands. Our cabin was a bee oasis and word spread quickly because they kept coming, hundreds and hundreds of bees sharing our small space.

“Girls, we have to get outside. Follow me, carefully. They aren’t after us, they just want water.” Windy led them topsides.

I grabbed a dry cereal bowl, folded a napkin inside it, and slowly, deliberately pumped water into it at the sink. Bees flew all around me. With about a cup-and-a-half of water in the bowl, the napkin saturated and acting as a wick, and already at least a dozen bees settled onto it, drinking, I made my way to the aft cockpit coaming, careful with every foot placement and hand hold not to come down on a bee. By the time I reached the back of the boat, more and more bees surrounded me and I realized I was these guys’ Pied Piper, the water my flute.

We dried up down below and I added a second bowl and when they were filled with water, hundreds of bees covered each, quietly drinking. But after only 20 minutes, the mass around one would begin to buzz very loudly and become more animated. I soon figured out this was a sign the bowl was bone dry and the cloth nearly so. I would then pour another cup-and-a-half of water slowly from a pitcher, right on top of the buzzing mass. It was magic, like turning down the volume on a stereo, the bees would go nearly quiet and move much less.

I repeated this process until just before sunset when the bees vanished. Within a five-minute span, we went from thousands of bees to zero bees. It was a coordinated exodus back to the hive before dark, like chickens heading for their coop.

“They’ll be back in the morning you know.”

“We don’t have enough water for us and them.”

“No, we’ll get an early start.”


In our twenties, we traded our boat for a house and our freedom for careers. In our thirties, we slumbered through the American dream. In our forties, we woke and traded our house for a boat and our careers for freedom. And here we are. Follow along at


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