Being ejected from the Sea of Cortez

With Christmas fast approaching, we sailed with Pesto from San Carlos, where we stayed for over 5 months, to La Cruz, where we shall now prepare for the “Puddle Jump”. And it was not just Christmas’ approach that was fast … this passage was Pedal to the Metal !

After the passports, the second item on our to-do list was to move Pesto from San Carlos to La Cruz. We were hard pressed to do it, for Christmas was around the corner and we definitely wanted to spend it with our cruising friends in La Cruz. On the other hand, I was anxious to get a passage with good sailing conditions, for I wanted to test Pesto and ourselves on longer passages under sail.

It was then with excitement that I saw a beefy frontal system approaching the northern end of the Sea of Cortez on the days preceding our departure – a solid indication of good winds for most of our passage. The good news was that we would have all wind we needed to cover most of the passage sailing. The not-so-good part was that it would all happen soon, leaving us with a mere three days to prepare for the passage after our arrival from the passport trip.

Getting ready for departure. Our bathroom lock decided to break on the day before, and I had to become an in-promptu locksmith and fix it (it's amazing how quickly we can learn when we are in a hurry!)
Getting ready for departure. Our bathroom lock decided to break on the day before, and I had to become an in-promptu locksmith and fix it (it’s amazing how quickly we can learn when we are in a hurry!)

As the departure drew nearer, the forecast also grew unequivocal of a good amount of wind blowing from the right direction for our passage. Everything was aligning. The winds would start to pick up on the early hours of Wednesday, December 16th. The tide would also be at the highest point at 10AM on that day, enabling a safe exit through the shallow channel of Marina Real. That meant we would get the wind just a few hours after it had started, thus giving us a good amount of sailing hours before the seas had picked up (it takes a while for wind-induced waves to form).

Plenty of breeze to propel us out of the Sea of Cortez
Plenty of breeze to propel us out of the Sea of Cortez

The forecast wind was just at the upper end of Comfort for us, blowing between 15 and 25 knots, and waves of up to 2.5 meters. Moreover, the forecast was indicating the winds (and waves) would be stronger on the left side of the Sea of Cortez, closer to the Baja California peninsula, and less so closer to mainland. That would give us the opportunity to adjust our “dare” level along the passage (that is, sail closer to Baja if we wanted more wind, or closer to mainland if we wanted less – it turns out we hugged mainland for most of the way down the Sea, for there was more than enough wind there already).

On the day and hour of departure, the marina staff advised us of strong winds forecast. As discomforting as it was, we still felt confident on the forecast we had, and Pesto’s capacity to handle such conditions In fact we had sailed in stronger winds before, particularly during our departure from Astoria nearly one year before.

We untied Pesto from Marina Real’s docks accordingly just after 9AM on that morning, and slowly made into Bahia Algodones’ harbor. From the shelter of the harbor we could see the white caps outside, a clear indication the wind was already blowing.

Then came the unexpected – for the first time, our main engine overheated. It was quite disappointing because I had just done a lot of work on its cooling system. Besides, the window we had to depart was very narrow. If we returned to the marina for repairs, we would most likely miss the weather window and end up stuck in San Carlos all the way through Christmas. I then made the decision to proceed, despite the engine problem (more to this on another post).

So we switched off the engine, spread all of Pesto’s mainsail and genoa, and sailed outside of the shelter of Algodones. The wind was coming from behind, at an intensity which is near or at Pesto’s sweetspot, and she reveled on it. For all afternoon we sailed at an average speed of 7-7.5knots, looking behind at times and watching the twin Tetakawi peaks slowly fade away in the haze that the cold front was bringing into the Sea.

As we neared dusk, the cold front settled and conditions grew sportier. The winds increased to a steady 20-25 knots, and the waves built to an average of 2 meters, with the occasional guy cresting well above Pesto’s topsides. All through the night Pesto sailed at speeds between 8 and 10 knots, with the occasional surf peaking at 12 knots. The surf stints were short though, for the waves were so close to each other that our bow often got buried on the back of the wave ahead. The same conditions prevailed during the second day, and Pesto easily clocked its first-with-us 200n.m. 24-hr run, making us very proud of her.

A wave has just lifted Pesto's stern and she is accelerating at this moment
A wave has just lifted Pesto’s stern and she is accelerating at this moment
2 seconds later, Pesto is now riding the wave, spreading a broad froth of white water on both sides, and with a subtle hiss coming from the hull, hinting that she is indeed surfin'
2 seconds later, Pesto is now riding the wave, spreading a broad froth of white water on both sides, and with a subtle hiss coming from the hull, hinting that she is indeed surfin’

 

Just after sunset of the second day, we were already reaching the southern end of the Sea of Cortez. In about 36 hours we had covered a stretch of Sea that took us over 3 months to cruise earlier on Spring. As Pesto continued to cover mile after mile boldly along the Sea of Cortez that night, I watched mechanically the faint green light of her speedometer with mixed feelings of joy, pride, and melancholy. It was indeed one of our best sailing passages yet, and we have great adventures ahead. But at the same time we were leaving one of the most beautiful places I’d ever cruised or been to yet.

The fact is, irrespective of how much I had read about the Sea of Cortez and the Baja California peninsula, it far exceeded our expectations: numerous beautiful bays, unspoiled beaches, dramatic mountainous backdrops, clear waters and a lot of sea life. it is truly a prime cruising destination, surprisingly under-explored and visited, despite its proximity to the US.

Watching videos at the cockpit was a favorite pastime for the kids
Watching videos at the cockpit was a favorite pastime for the kids
Raquel soaking in the warm sun on the third day of the passage
Raquel soaking in the warm sun on the third day of the passage

On the third day the wind started to fade, as predicted, and the rhythm got much slower. The air was also much warmer, and we were pleased to have a motion-free, warm night to rest.

*** Short movie of Dolphins swimming ahead of Pesto’s bow: Pesto-05Jan16-014

Sunrise brought us warmer waters and air, no winds and flattening seas for a smooth landfall to La Cruz
Sunrise brought us warmer waters and air, no winds and flattening seas for a smooth landfall to La Cruz

We reached Marina Nayarit in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle at 5pm on Saturday, December 19th, having covered 564 Nautical Miles at an average speed of 7.2 Knots – not bad.

La Cruz is going to be our new home now for the upcoming months, as we prepare to cross the Eastern Pacific en-route to French Polynesia. And something tells us that many stories shall be written here. Stay tuned.

Pesto safely tied at the docks at Marina Riviera Nayarit.
Pesto safely tied at the docks at Marina Riviera Nayarit.

One Reply to “Being ejected from the Sea of Cortez”

Leave a Reply