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Exploring the Sea of Cortez

The Sea of Cortez is a huge body of water, running north-south, with many, many islands, and anchorages. The sea is surrounded on three sides open to the south and the Pacific Ocean. Anchorages can be found at many of the islands and on both the Baja side and the mainland side.
Pam and I took Red Dolphin out for three separate long-term trips while slipped in Marina de La Paz. Our explorations took us to Isla Espiritu Santo, Isla Partida, Isla San Francisco, Bahia de Ballandra, San Evaristo, and Puerto Los Gatos. We traveled to some of these multiple times.
Here is a quick rundown of the visits we made. Much greater detail will be found in our 2nd edition of California is a Lee Shore.

Isla Espiritu Santo- All of the anchorages are on the west side of the island. They are too open for overnight, but many are great for day visits.
Anchorage Caleta Parteda (between Isal Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida)– This is probably the best anchorage in the islands just 16 nm north of La Paz. It is a volcanic crater (caldera) open to the sea on the west. It is large and popular. You can anchor in almost any depth of water. You will not be protected from wind, but wave action is slight. The flora and fauna here are quite diverse and the beach areas are covered with archaeological shell middens. We probably spent 12 days here overall.
El Coronel–Only 2 nm north of Caleta Partida this anchorage is similar in shape and is nearly as large. Once again, you can anchor in any depth of water you need. In both cases shole waters dominate near the beaches and exten out as much as 1/2 mile. This anchorage contains a Mangrove swamp alongside of which runs a 1 mile long trail to the east side of the island and a stunning view of the eastern side of the Sea of Cortez.

Isla San Franciso– Just a little farther northwest is Isla San Francisco with an opening to the west and a hooked san bar which gives very good wave protection. This is a very large anchorage and many boats will be there. People set up camps, both day and overnight on the beaches, the water is crystal clear, and the swimming is great. Once again it is easy to select the depth of water to anchor in.

Bahia San Evaristo– If you are now getting tired of just seeing other cruisers then this is your place. By this time we hope you are beginning to speak Spanish because this is the place. Just west and a little north of Isla San Francisco on the peninsula, this bay is a very well protected anchorage fronting a village of the same name. Their is another anchorage that can hold 4 or 5 boats on the north side, but we like sitting right in front of the village. The water gets remarkably shallow, so pay attention to your sounder. On shore is a reverse osmosis water treatment plant that supplies clean water to the townspeople along with seemingly unlimited quantities of ice. Their is also a small grocery store in the coral colored building. Their is no sign. Outside of the store on the patio is a horizontal ice chest the size of a large freezer. In it are mile, cheese, meat, etc. It is covered with burlap and I guarantee you, you would not see it without some notice. No one speaks English here that we could find. Amazingly, the prices in the store aren’t all that bad, considering that they are on a dirt road two-and-one-half hours drive from La Paz. If you walk north out of the village and go up and over the saddle you will find yourself in a salt evaporation pond. This is one of their industries here other than raising very skinny cattle. The beach here is loaded with agates and polished shell pieces. Their is even a small cemetery right near the beach.
Many panga fisherman inhabit this village, so it is no problem getting fresh fish. Prices are extremely good for this great delicacy.

Puerto Los Gatos– Some 28 nm north of San Evaristo on the Baja Peninsula is a great anchorage with white sand beaches and lovely striated red sandstone. This anchorage gives great protection from north winds and if you tuck in tight to the north side, you are protected from swell and waves from the east. If you need human contact their is a small village (fishing camp) two miles south with a decent anchorage named Casa Grande. More likely than not, they will come to you to see if you want to buy lobster (langosta) or fish.

Bahia de Ballandra– When returning to La Paz, it is advisable to not run the channel at night. If you are running late then this is your place. Ballandra Bay is large, sheltered, clear, and a great place to swim. It is also just 11 nm from Marina de La Paz, but yet it is like being transported into another world. Once again you have a large range of depths to anchor in and you can anchor south or north depending on wind direction.

Environmental Discoveries– When sailing around La Paz you will encounter dozens of islands, many of which have good anchorages. The one caveat to all of this is the word R O C K S. Their are small rocks in the sea. They all seem to be charted but you have to pay attention. We also have noticed a clear pattern with the anchorages. All of the anchorages we have entered so far have rocks extending out from both ends of the entrance towrd the middle. Many are only exposed at low tide. So enter the anchorages at the middle (but read your charts) and go to the middle of the anchorage before hunting for that perfect spot.

The wind is another thing. It is often quite windy with the local terrain doing weird things with wind. We found that each day would have a windless period followed by quite strong winds either from east or west (in the anchorages). At night the wind would switch directions until very late at night. In other words, anchor watch is a necessity, but with modern GPS units you can sleep most of the time. We were contantly told that the winds we were experiencing were unusual, but I am beginning to believe that winds out there are quite normal. In fact La Paz, and the islands to the north experience the Corumel winds, which are cooling, but also quite rapid.