Sailing Across the Sea of Cortez

Many cyclists opt to cycle down Baja California instead of making the same distance on the mainland. Maybe it is the remote desert stretches, gorgeous beaches and the promise of plentiful, tasty fish tacos that draw us  or maybe it is the simplicty of the one main road that leads you through the pennisula or maybe we’re a little like lemmings and tend to plan our own journeys from reading blogs of previous trips. Anyways, we get to southern Baja California and we are left with a challenge – the broad espanse of water between us and the mainland.  There are a variety of different options across avaliable, from taking a remarkably cheap flight and flying across (one of our friends found a flight that was cheaper than taking the ferry), taking either the passenger or freight ferries, or going to the marina to see if you can crew on a boat crossing. Timing is what marks the difference in these different options. First, the flight is much shorter than the ferries and the ferries also take considerably less time than catching a boat across. Secondly, timing is important because around the holidays when we were trying to cross, the passenger ferry was completely booked. Bryan and I decided to try out the marina and had amazing luck. The strong, cold El Norte winds was letting up for a break of three to four days and many boats were making a break for it. We called out on the VHF radio to the daily MarineNet broadcast and got a reply immediately. We met up with our captain in the next hour after and we were sleeping on the boat that night in preparation for departing the next morning.
We made the 72 hour crossing from La Paz to Puerto Vallarta in an amazing 4 day non-stop journey on the beautiful 46 foot sailboat, M/S SOMF with Captain Jerry, Sailor Yeri and her little seadog, Bubu, named after a candy here and just as sweet. The boat is the most luxurious sailboat I’ve ever been on and bigger than our old apartment in Vancouver! It had a huge aft cabin and a spacious v-berth by the bow of the ship. It has two full queen size beds, a full galley with a full sized fridge, a deep freeze, a large flat-screen TV that we watched movies at night sometimes, a water filter that desalinates ocean water to fresh water, an industrial sized ice maker and a washing machine. We had hot showers…hot showers!
Cold beer, hot showers and great company; we are living the dream!
We left La Paz harbour around noon on Tuesday Dec 17. Just before Lorenzo channel, I saw a manta ray jump and do a flip right off the starboard bow. We had seen some mantas jump in the distance when we had sailed here with Ben and Jory last year but I had thought they were baby mantas. Seeing them so close on this trip made me realize how diifcult it is to tell size over water without any visual references. Seeing this manta in comparison to the boat made me realize how big it was. It probably had a 6 feet wide wingspan!
The seas were a bit rough the first day, especially as we cut through Lorenzo channel between Isla Espiritu Santo and the mainland. The wind and waves were going one direction and we wanted to go another direction. Our disagreement left us rocking in the waters. However, by midnight, things had settled down and the ocean was as flat as glass for the rest of our crossing.
On a 72 hour crossing, someone needs to be awake and up on deck on watch all the time to keep an eye out for other boats and to keep us on route. Though Bryan and I feel like we are truly blessed to have such a remarkable opportunity and reaping the lions share of the benefits of crossing with Captain Jerry on the beautiful M/S SOMF, picking up some extra crew before a crossing helps share watch duties, as well as helps out with cooking, cleaning and etc. It works out much better to have three hour shifts through the night rather than just trying to stay up the whole night, which adds up on a multi-day crossing. Bryan and I are on watch from 11-2am, Jerry is on from 2-5am and Yeri is on from 5-8am when people start waking up again. On our first watch, I remember thinking, “Wow. Yesterday, I was in La Paz looking for a boat and here I am tonight keep watch and basically driving a 46 foot sailboat through the Sea of Cortez!” We worked south along the coast of the Baja that night bathed in the bright light of the almost full moon above.
When I woke up the next day, Cabo San Lucas and the southern tip of the Baja was fading off into the distance as we headed out into the open waters in the vast Sea of Cortez. As land faded away, it was just horizon to horizon shimmering blue seas. The wind had died and the ocean was a bit wavy sill but had really settled down from the day before. We dropped fishing lines off the back and eagerly watched for fish. One beautiful dorado, also called mahi-mahi or dolphin fish, finned around and nipped the lure twice. They are beautiful fish, changing to a brillant blue when they are on the hunt. However, they are also a really smart fish and quickly realized our lure was not edible and left us dreaming of sushi. The next morning, Bryan and I woke up to lines whirling on the fishing reel. It took us a couple moments to realize what it was and when we quickly realized, Bryan jumped out of bed and ran onto the deck. It was a slow morning in the middle of the ocean with no boats around so Yeri decided to start fishing. We had two of them finning around the back of the boat but it was just a tease. Still no fish for us.
Bryan and I spent much of our third day sitting together on the bow platform with our feet dangling off, watching the oceanscape flow past and looking for fish and other forms of life. There are so many turtles just floating in the water. The first one we saw, we thought it was a floating piece of garbage. We were going to sail right by it so Bryan went to get a hook to scoop the “garbage” out of the water. As we were right by it, we realized it was a turtle! I must have seen almost 40 turtles that day. They become temporary islands for resting sea birds and many of the turtles’ backs were spattered white. We also saw basking sea lions, flipping their fins in the air as they floated past us and a huge marlin jump three times, splashing in the distance. Flying fish, jumping out of the water and soaring for incredible distances on their wings leap to escape predators such as marlin and dorados. Sometimes, I think that flying fish might fly for the curiosity of it, a passion for exploring something completely foreign to their natural habitat, much like sailors who also leave their familar land behind for this vast watery domain.
The water was completely flat on our third day and the sea resembled a giant lake. We stopped the boat and jumped off to go swimming about 150 miles off shore! The water was such an incredible shade of blue and 30 degrees celcius, temperature taken 2 feet below the surface.
All of a sudden a little later, a pair of marlins hit our fishing hooks. They are fierce fish who dominate these seas. Bryan, on one fishing line, said that unlike the fight of other fish who try to run and then rest and then try to run and break the line, the marlin just seemed to stand up on his tail and shake his head to break the line. With each shake of the marlin’s head, Bryan was being tossed around a bit on the boat. It was an estimated 150lb fish, a fish that is bigger than me and almost weighed as much as Bryan. Both marlins worked themselves loose after a brief fight.
Then, we were blessed with a huge pod of dolphins who accompanied our boat into the sunset. One dozen was all around us and another dozen was bow surfing. They swim by the bow of the boat, perhaps the wake pushes them along for a ride or maybe it’s just for fun. They are doing jumps and flips and Yeri’s little dog, Bubu is barking at them from the deck.The water is so warm here, the ocean glows with bioluminence whenever the water is disturbed at night. Before the bright moon rose, the boat cut a shimmery, glowing path in the black waters. After the moon rose, it was so bright you could only see a few sparkles here and there. On our watch that night, we realized that some of the sparkles in infront of the boat was a pair of dolphins! As our eyes adjusted, we watched the glowing dolphins swim with the boat in the Sea of Cortez night.
On Dec 20, I woke up and could see land again. It would still take us all morning to go into the huge Bandaras Bay, which straddles two states and numerous communities. Bandaras Bay is also a hot spot for whales and our ride in was basically a whale watching tour, seeing the majestic grey whales swim with their sinuous dark bodies and breach with giant splashes. The flat bay was like a volcanic field with the geysers of the whales breath shooting into the air like numerous volcanic vents. We anchor at La Cuz, about 20km from Puerto Vallarto on the road and spend one last night on the boat. That night, the winds pick up and even the anchorage is rocking. We got here at the perfect time!
It has been such an amazing time sailing and I can’t wait until the next time we set   foot on a boat. A huge thanks to Captain Jerry and Yeri for giving us such a   wonderful opportunity and their lovely company!

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