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Cruising the Warm, Welcoming Sea of Cortez

Laurie Ritchie and Scott Doran

Muskoka
Lagoon 400 S2
June 5th, 2017

As we set off on our around the World cruising odyssey, we had certain preconceptions about the dry Sea of Cortez and Mexico overall. More on these later.

Getting there was an adventure in itself. Formally untying the lines on a hot July 21, 2016, in Parksville and heading to the thriving metropolis of Vancouver seemed a fitting start to our adventure. Looking back, we realized that this would be the warmest we would be until we got to Cabo San Lucas, 4 months later! Leaving Port Angeles was the most-churned the sea would be for us, with current against wind and 4 seconds between standing waves! Things that have not moved before or since came flying off the shelves and we almost turned back, but found relief going close to shore. Turning left at the Pacific Ocean was a memorable experience, with the fog parting for a glimpse of Cape Flattery. We harbour hopped the many bar crossings along the Coast, making a lucky weather window around Cape Blanco and the notorious Cape Mendocino.

Fog followed us into Southern California, where we discovered the Channel Islands. A three day stay developed into 3 weeks of exploring and meeting up with our current sailing buddy boat, Harlequin (who left Sidney a month after we did) and the “Adventure Adrift” couple on Veruna. The dry, arid landscape in the Channel Islands resembled the pictures that we saw of the Sea of Cortez, so we were excited to see this area. In San Diego, we were the last boat to join the Baja Haha (183 out of 183 boats). This three-stop sociable “race” to Cabo San Lucas proved to be a fun experience, as we connected with many boats that we are continuing to see in our travels. Snorkeling Cabo Pulmo, the revitalized hard coral reef, was spectacular.

Snorkeling at Frailes near Cabo Pulmo south of La Paz and north of Cabo San Lucas

This is an example of a successful community focusing on bringing back the over-fished marine life by voluntarily patrolling the reefs. The diversity and quantity of life in these reefs is remarkable – a real success story of changing the emphasis of the community from fishing to tourism. Arriving in La Paz on November 21, 2016, we found a wonderful community to live in and it was hard to leave, as it was an ideal spot to bring aboard friends and family as we explored Islas Espíritu Santo and Partida.

Caleta Partida is between the two islands Espíritu Santo and Partida, just northeast of La Paz

Marina de La Paz and Club Cruceros were a cruising community with yoga, runs on the Malecon, tennis, cards, games, dinners, whale shark expeditions, celebrating Christmas  on the dock and bringing in the New Year anchored with friends.

Tiny portable Christmas tree

We even celebrated Valentines Day with my parents and friends from Parksville, and got a taste of the colourful and lively Carnival at the end of February.

We hauled out to repaint our hulls at Marina Del Palmara, a first class place, where the job was done fast and thoroughly. After celebrating Scott’s 60th birthday with a surprise party with 15 cruisers, we left La Paz on Feb. 27 with two other boats. We traveled up the Baja with highlights of manta rays flipping and a frigate bird rookery at Espíritu Santo; swimming with the seals at Los Islotes; dinner at Lupes at San Evaristo; hiking the challenging Steinbeck Canyon; humpback and blue whales near Loreto and Coronado Island; frequent visits from dolphins, notably in the Bahia de Concepcion; partying in the Orchard with Linda and Curtis at Mulege, and cave paintings with Salvador. We are presently at Santa Rosalia, with plans to leave early tomorrow for San Francisquito, a 77 mile journey.

When we were in the beginning stages of planning our journey, we had thoughts to miss the Sea of Cortez entirely as it seemed such a barren and dry area. However, this area has been described as the World’s Aquarium. Exploring it further, we have found the diversity of birds, reef fish and flora in this area to be amazing. However, the stories of putting your hook in the water and quickly catching a large fish for dinner sadly no longer exist, as over-fishing has depleted the marine life so much that some locals call the Sea of Cortez dead. Dorado and Marlin are infrequent catches, though the Triggerfish and the dark meat of Tuna Bonita can be snagged. The parrotfish, whose job it is to eat the algae covering the coral, have been so over-fished by spear fishing that the coral is choked by the algae. In a strange situation, it is not illegal to buy parrotfish, just to fish for them. We were lucky to talk to several people who are actively trying to limit the poaching of these ecologically valuable fish. They had the three major grocery stores and several restaurants in La Paz to agree not to sell parrotfish. A start, but it is yet to determine if it is too little too late. For more information on this topic, check out the website www.seawatch.org.

Another misconception we had about Mexico stemmed from the highly publicized drug activity and corruption in this area. Our experiences with the Mexican people are entirely positive. They have been friendly, helpful, honest, content and family oriented. In La Paz, there was only one homeless person that we remember, throughout our 3 month stay there. The children and teenagers were seen playing beach volleyball, soccer and running on the Malecon, almost always with their families. Children are included in all the activities and there were many schools for the “ninos”. When a Mexican person greats you, it isn’t usually with “hola”, the equivalent of “hi”. They look at you in the eyes, ask how you are and try to practice their English. They usually grasp you by the hand with both hands and even a person who may not be dressed well is treated with respect by other people. They are proud of their community and the history of their families and the area. They are patient with our poor attempts at Spanish and a smile is the first thing that they give. We had a stereo system, air conditioning and the hull painted, and the service was prompt, clean, thorough and they resist early payment or a tip. Any time you ask a person for help, they will go way out of their way to bring you to the place you are looking for. For example, a sales clerk at Sears brought us up two flights of escalators to show us where the hats were located. For my morning runs, there were dozens of local people stretching, hopping and running, so I felt right at home. Only in Cabo San Lucas did we feel hounded to purchase items. In all other areas of the Baja, we were only offered things to buy if we asked.

So, our perspective of the Mexican people of the Sea of Cortez has been a warm, welcoming, honest, family oriented, supportive people who are content with their lives and happy to help out. We look forward to continuing our journey in the Sea of Cortez over the rest of the spring and summer. We are loving this cruising life and look forward to the many cultures, experiences and adventures that lie ahead in the years to come.

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  1. Roger Frost says:

    Great to hear you made it safely and are enjoying the Baja area. I miss it very much particularly with the winter we had here. Fair winds and calm seas.

    1. Laurie Ritchie says:

      Hi Roger. Yes, we are enjoying the Sea immensely and are currently in San Carlos which is our favourite area so far. We are also glad to have missed the past winter in BC. Thanks for remembering us – we used many of your tips along the way.
      Cheers,
      Laurie and Scott

    2. Bob HARNETT says:

      Good day Rodger. ….my boat is in San Blas, back to it in November. ..where are you…Bob, s.v. Tarves,,, or magic lady….

  2. Bob HARNETT says:

    Nice to read about your adventures, and see you out there fulfilling your dreams…Bob, s.v. Magic Lady…. (registered name. TARVES…)

    1. Scott Doran and Laurie Ritchie says:

      Hi Bob, we have been trying to get hold of you. Hope you enjoyed your time at San Blas. Where are you now?
      Our Mexican phone number is 612-204-4017 and we are here until June 21, then to Vancouver Island for a few weeks. Hope to catch up with you.
      Cheers,
      Laurie and Scott

  3. harry says:

    hey kids
    great to hear from you. i will be joining you in the sea of cortez this fall. do you have a blog or some way of knowing where you are when i arrive there?
    harry

    1. Scott Doran and Laurie Ritchie says:

      Hi Harry!
      Glad to hear that you are finally heading our way this fall. We will be around San Carlos until the end of October, then heading toward La Paz and Cabo Pulmo in November, then exploring the mainland of Mexico until March. Check out our Off the Starboard Hull Facebook page as we update it quite regularly, our YouTube channel of the same name for more in depth videos or give us a call on our Mexican phone at 612-204-4017 or email at scottdoranssr@gmail.com,
      Hope to see you soon.

  4. Donna Sassaman Donna Sassaman says:

    Hi, Laurie and Scott!

    Your account of cruising the Sea of Cortez mirrors our experience of our two winters there in the early ’90s (although, at the time, fishing for dinner was a bit more successful). I had a wonderful time developing my “Shopping Spanish” vocabulary with the help of local merchants. With one exception, we found the officials to be honest … and the one exception ended well.

    It was great to have a visit with you at Glen and Mary’s a few weeks ago. Happy continuing cruising! I look forward to reading of your next adventures.