Bahía Santa María to Cabo San Lucas
The first night’s sleep after a multiday passage is truly a euphoric experience; never again will I underestimate the power of a full eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. Bahia Santa Maria was kind to us sleepy sailors who had fought long and hard to be there – weathering numerous storms, technical curve balls, and of course the harry logistics of even checking into the country. But, all of those battle scars we carried with us disappeared the minute our hook hit the sand, and heads hit our pillows. It was a new chapter for the Avocet crew, one that would have an entirely new set of misadventures to write home about, and we started off strong thanks to our pal Peter.
The sun glistened over the vast Bahia Santa Maria, our temporary home sweet home. The bay is formed by Magdelena Island’s largest twist and low spot. We chose Bahia Santa Maria over “Mag Bay” since we were only planning on spending two nights, and the entry was extremely simple to navigate between the rugged Punta Hughes and Cabo Corso. Despite this being a wide open bay, it is extremely well protected from the prevailing NW winds and swell. The evening prior we had laid our hook in 25 feet with 4:1 scope, our anchor coordinates being: 24°45.583’N • 112°15.227’W tucked behind the wind shadow of the mountain we had planned on hiking, but never got around to.
Peter Learns a Lesson
It was 7:30 and we were ready to start our day. After a full night of rest and the promise of sunshine we were eager to get off the boat and touch land for the first time in a week. Peter and Olivia dinghied over with Ginger riding on the bow and asked if they could join us for breakfast since they were already out of food. Having provisioned enough food to feed an army I gladly invited them to join us when they got back from taking Ginger to shore. “Perfect, see you in 30 minutes” they said before motoring off towards the beach. But 30 minutes came and went, and our friends were MIA. Just when we started to worry Olivia texted me “have you seen Peter?” which was concerning since the last time we saw him, they were all together. I grabbed the binoculars and scanned the horizon; low and behold, there was Peter. Rowing their Oceancraft aluminum dinghy “Jaba” two miles from the boats, and about two miles off the beach.
Chris and I launched Winglet and he motored out to Peter’s rescue, towing him back to Avocet. I didn’t need binoculars to see that Peter was drenched, head to toe but still smiling ear to ear. I knew he would have a story to tell, and it did not disappoint. Apparently he dropped Olivia and Ginger off on shore, then went to “rip around” in the dinghy, but was playing a little too close to shore when a wave broke over him and flipped the dinghy and all of its contents – including his brand new iPhone, which was ironic given the circumstance he got it in the first place. It is truly a blessing he didn’t break his neck or anything else and was able to right the dinghy and attempt to row back to the boats. With no radio or phone to contact Olivia, she was still ashore trying to figure out how to get back to the boats. Chris handed Peter a set of tools with the instruction to start taking apart his Evinrude outboard then went to retrieve Olivia and Ginger who both blended in all-too well with the surrounding area.
Together again aboard Avocet, we enjoyed breakfast then the boys dug into the outboard. Chris is sort of a master at fixing “unfixable” outboards, and earned a reputation back in Ventura as Mr.Fix-It. Many times I would come home to Chris working on a neighbors outboard in trade for beers or just future favors he would never cash in on. He seems to enjoy the puzzle, and had never been bested by an outboard yet… until this one. He tried all the tricks, used all the tools and nothing. It was a full day of work on the outboard, while Olivia and I read our books and Ginger rotated between cuddling with me, her, and curling up alone. Around 16:00 Chris called it – “she’s toast,” he declared. He was sure he could probably fix it if we had more time and resources, but it was our only day in the bay before we continued south so we decided to pack up and head to the spit of beach closest to our boats.
By then it was overcast, and the water was not as warm as I had hoped but I did enjoy beach combing looking for shells, rocks, and (my favorite) bones. In addition to those three treasures, we also found a fair amount of waste left behind by the fishermen – nets, rusting crab pots, floats, line and more. Olivia and I watched colorful crabs scatter across the jagged rocks as the ocean breathed in and out of the tidepools. Ginger ran her heart out, never showing a sign of tiring despite our attempts to exhaust her. Determined to make a bonfire, Peter went on a walkabout to find fuel but came back empty handed in the barren environment. Instead, we watched our boats float at anchor and celebrated the fact that we had made it – and that Peter was still in one piece after his little accident.
The shade from the mountains cast over us, signaling our time to leave the beach. Although we had sincerely hoped to hike the mountains, it just wasn’t in our cards. The good news: they aren’t going anywhere, and we can always return. However, I hadn’t even thought about that hike until I sat down to write about this, some three months later. Back aboard Avocet we made burgers, played games, and talked about the journey to come.
Chaos to Cabo
It was February 13th, the last day I would be 25 and one of the last days we would spend sailing down the Pacific side of Baja. With no oars to get their dinghy to and from shore, Peter asked if Chris could take Ginger and Olivia to shore before sailing south. While they messed about on shore, I could see Peter running around on deck trying to get everything stowed – I had no idea he was racing me while I casually picked up the few items that needed to be secured on Avocet. As soon as Olivia and Ginger hit Kessel’s deck they were off the hook and southbound. Chris and I took some more time to stowe the dinghy and make sure everything was going to stay in place, anticipating a bumpy passage. We sailed off the hook and got into the wind line around 11:00, only two nautical miles behind our pals.
Our spinnaker filled with the 15 knot breeze, pushing us down along the rocky coastline. It was a wonderful day of fair winds and following seas, the true definition of “champagne sailing,” but was only a false hope that the night would remain as lovely. On the contrary we had one of the most sporty night passages to date, but faired far better than our friends who experienced a near catastrophic failure on my birthday. It was 24:00; the constellations of leo and cancer were above us, sparkling bright but the phosphorescence in our wake gave the night sky a run for its money. Avocet Avocet Avocet Kessel came over the VHF, Peter was the first to wish me a happy birthday, and in that same moment shooting stars fell across the sky, and the swell broke into glistening cascades of whitewash. It had been getting sportier as the new day began, and at 2:15 Kessel hit their apex of passage chaos.
Avocet Avocet Avocet Kessel the urgency in Peter’s voice was not there when he had wished me a happy birthday a few hours prior. The wind was sustained in the mid 30’s with gusts into the 50’s and the swell had grown to ten feet every ten seconds. “We lost our steering” he said, explaining a rough plan of what they were going to do. I kept an eye on their location on Navionics, unable to see them with the naked eye, or with our binoculars. Fortunately they had a Hydrovane and were able to get a handle on the situation, but Olivia retells the story best:
“I remember coming on watch around 1:30 and Peter said the wind was dying down a bit, in the 13-14 knot range. No more than 30 minutes later it was creeping upward to into the 20’s, then 30’s. Peter was unable to sleep so he was up again and I went down to be with Ginger. It sounded so gnarly out there and I couldn’t fall back asleep. Then I heard more noise and I knew something had gone wrong. Our steering failed which (I believe) made us turn up, our entire genoa was out and flogging so aggressively it wrapped our halyard and we couldn’t pull it in. God bless our Hydrovane which barely managed to work while we addressed the sh!tshow we found ourselves starring in. LUCKILY Peter was able to unwrap the sail without going up the mast. Two of our three reefing blocks had been completely ripped off and our reefing lines were a tangled mess. I think we drifted for about an hour towards shore taking waves on the beam the whole time. We were maybe 5 miles offshore? It was an EVENTFUL night to say the least, and it doesn’t end there. Later that morning, just after the sun came up, I looked out over the bow and saw a MASSIVE powerboat beating up into the wind directly towards us. We still didn’t having steering, so it was only the Hydrovane sailing us to the wind. Peter had just woken up when I told him he needed to come out and look. I’ve never seen him grab the radio so fast. He hailed the boat a few times and said that we were under sail, with steering failure and the powerboat needed to redirect their course ASAP. Thankfully they did, and I think he signed off with “Goodluck” which we desperately needed. While abeam Peter was able to lock the radial, then crawl into the lazarette to reset the cable in the correct position thus regaining our steering. What a wild ride.”
During Kessel’s debacle Chris took watch while I fought to get some rest below deck. Cleo burrowed as deep into my chest as she could, undoubtedly sick from the motion. Thankfully, Chris quickly brought Avocet over to a broad reach that severely flattened out the boat making it much easier to drift off to sleep. The remainder of our day was relatively uneventful, full of more great sailing.
At 16:00 Cabo’s lands end was in sight; the wind was warm and sea temperature was 83 degrees fahrenheit. Fishing boats and bougie charters zoomed by us to circle the gray whales that were brave enough to breach in the area. “I can’t believe we are here” I said, still pinching myself. Chris put his arms around me as I glanced longingly over the dodger, “we promised ourselves we would come back here, and we are excellent with our follow through” he said before returning to the helm. The last time we were in Cabo was in 2018 for our honeymoon – what a different experience THIS was.
“I think here is fine!” Chris said confidently as we searched for a spot to lay the hook. I was uneasy with his decision to anchor directly in front of Mango’s bar in 35’ of water, less than six feet from their swim buoys. Looking for other options I pointed towards the cruising boats anchored in the east side of the bay, away from the sea side restaurants and clubs. “Why not over there?” I asked. Determined to prove his choice was the right one, I agreed to give his spot a shot and we went through with laying our hook. 15 minutes later we pulled the hook and relocated to where the other boats were. How did I convince him it was the better choice? By searching for his big brothers blog site and showing him that even they laid their hook where I wanted to – so by default, they were on my team making it three against one. He couldn’t argue with that logic and once we settled in our new, quieter, spot we were very pleased… for the time being anyways. We set our hook at 22°53.349’N • 109°53.918’W.
Most say “How in the wold can you call this an anchorage?!” And it’s true. The shelf off the beach makes it difficult to anchor, however when we set out stern line out onto the beach (yes pretty much on the beach) we kept our bow into the swell and for the most part enjoyed the anchorage. We dropped our main hook in about 37 ft ( less than 200 yards away from the beach) around.
This spot was our 2nd anchorage in Cabo, as we had come in during the middle of the night, which made it almost impossible to tell what lights were boats or belonged to the city. Plus with the bay being so deep close to shore, we could hear the waves crashing but not seem them while we were still in 50 feet. It was a bit nerve racking, so we anchored in about 55ft around 22 53.569’N 109 53.3565’W, to wake in the morning seeing we were out in the middle of no where! We had a good laugh then moved to the closer spot.” (SV Prism)
With the hook set we didn’t hesitate to launch Winglet and make our way to shore where we would rendezvous with Kessel, who had gotten a slip since their dinghy was rendered useless without an outboard. I still had a few hours of my birthday left so we set out to find the biggest margarita I could get my hands on, and while walking I remembered why we were planning on bypassing Cabo entirely.
Those who think Cabo represents the best, or even typical features of Pacific Mexico cruising will be disappointed by the endless calls of hawkers peddling timeshares, drugs and hookers to the throngs of buzzed gringo tourists. It’s been said that Cabo is a lot like Las Vegas, but with fewer Mexicans. There might be some truth to that. Everything you’ve probably heard about Cabo is true. It is an adult Disneyland, without the rules, or the closing time. Don’t be dumb or obvious in the way you throw cash around, or make a big show of expensive cameras and jewelry, and you’ll be just fine. There are also some local real-Mexico gems hidden in the sticky seedy rough of Cabo, if you go looking for them. (OCG)
Back aboard Avocet we settled in for a good night’s sleep – which was brutally interrupted by one of our worst nightmares.
We Are Not Where We Are Supposed to Be…
It was 3:00 am: The wind had just picked up, waking both of us as it whistled through our rigging. Chris got up to check our surroundings. I was just about to fall back asleep when he called me “Marissa, I need you up here. Now.” Something in the tone of his voice raised a red flag so I quickly rolled out of bed with my glasses on, and grabbed a sweater just in case.
Still groggy, I looked around trying to understand the problem. “What’s up?” I asked, Chris running his fingers through his messy hair. “We drug. Bad.” Those were words I had never heard spoken together before. What do you mean we drug? Our anchor has never dragged us. I looked around to see the dark shape of lands end to our port and then tried to find the anchor lights of our neighbors, but they had blended in perfectly with the shoreline, only adding to my disorientation. Chris brought up our hook which was just free floating nearly 200 feet beneath us. That Cabo shelf was no joke, the hook probably just fell off when it reset during the wind shift. Within 20 minutes we made it back to our spot, and anchored quickly and quietly without disturbing our neighbors who had no idea we had mysteriously disappeared in the night. It was a miracle we didn’t bump into anybody, and that there wasn’t a cruise ship anchored behind us that night since we had drug out to the spot where they generally drop their hook(s).
*Why didn’t we set an anchor alarm? Well… truthfully we usually don’t since we have anchored in many different situations and conditions and always stayed put (need I bring up Morro Bay once more?) but regardless it was a good reminder to probably set an alarm or incorporate a watch schedule into our nighttime routine in less than ideal holdings.
Breakfast, Groceries, and the Cabo Chop
After our wild night we definitely deserved breakfast, my favorite meal of the day, so I searched for the best rated places in our area. That’s how I came across Mama’s Royal Cafe that boldly claimed to have the best french toast in the whole state. After saying goodmorning to the well-rested Kessel crew we started our walk and prepared to say our best “no gracias” in anticipation of the vendor heckling we would surely endure. Fortunately, once away from the malecón we were no longer approached with menus, trinkets or the promise of panga rides to the most “exclusive” beach ever, and had a moment to catch our breath and enjoy where we were at.
“Lo siento, mi español es muy malo” I said to the waitress. She smiled and nodded, then said my pronunciation was “muy bueno” before taking our order. Of course I went for the french toast, to put their claim to the test, whereas Chris ordered the huevos rancheros and two cappuccino for us both. Soon our meals were placed in front of us attop the brightly colored tablecloth as a guitarist started to play American classics in español. I was highly impressed with our meals and have to confirm their french toast was one of the best I have ever had! If you are ever in Cabo San Lucas, I highly recommend the stop.
After breakfast, Chris and I hunted down a grocery store to replenish our produce. In the port of Cabo there is a shopping mall, and inside a grocery store that surpassed all of my expectations: Selecto Súper Chedraui Puerto Paraíso. This store literally has everything. Think Walmart, but better quality. They have a huge wine selection, pasta selection, sushi, humidor, clothing, a tortilleria, crepe station, gelato, coffee shop … and more. This store was opened in 2020 so it is still relatively new and an absolute asset to cruisers given its location and extensive stock. Oh, and eggs were $3 for a flat of 18 where in California prices were up to $11 when we left.
When we were planning our sail down Baja so many people warned us we would have difficulties finding (good) fresh veggies, “common” dry goods and cheese but this store was comparable to the States, if not better. Cabo San Lucas is a foodie paradise, plain and simple. With that said, there is a lot of competition in the restuaraunt game that pours over into the grocers of Cabo and San Jose as well, which means if you are planning on provisioning, here is a great place to do it. The combination of quality, price, and selection are unbeaten at the end of the Baja Peninsula.
Back on the dock we loaded up Winglet with our groceries and diesel cans. While waiting for Chris to return with our last jerry can, I watched the Cabo port entrance come alive with jetskis, pangas, and mega yachts all stirring up 4 foot chop. With an additional 500 pounds in our 8’ Fatty Knees I was very skeptical of our ability to make it out of the entrance unscathed, but this dinghy once again proved what she was capable of.
As we made our way out of the harbor entrance we gained quite the shoreside audience watching as we navigated through the chop and traffic – something we nicknamed “the gauntlet”. The passing boats turned their heads to watch us punch through their wake, Winglet’s lapstrake and sheer keeping us stable and dry. Although our 2 HP Yamaha outboard and hard dinghy are slower than many other dinghies we wouldn’t trade it for the world. We made it back to Avocet as dry as a bone and began to unload our precious cargo.
Despite it being the “offseason,” there was still a fair amount of jet skis, pangas and other tourist boats tearing around the anchorage. This is generally what makes Cabo a pain in the ass for cruisers, and after nearly being hit by a jetski at anchor we decided it that we had gotten our Cabo fix and it was time to cross the sea.
Fairwinds and Farewells
After a good night of sleep (without dragging) we woke up refreshed and ready to pull our hook and set our course for the mainland. Peter and Olivia who were determined to join us in Chacala (where we were to rendezvous with Chris’s family) decided that it was in their best interest to stay behind to work on Kessel. To recap: this was their shakedown cruise, and since leaving Ventura they damaged their sails, discovered diesel tank issues, had a steering malfunction, and lost some hardware so the crew definitely had a bit of work cut out for them but they were determined to get back on course. After all, that’s what cruising is all about, right? Fixing things in exotic places. We had all the faith in the world that our “goodbye” would be temporary, especially since Mama Neely was flying down with Peter’s new-new iPhone. After hugs ashore we returned to Avocet, brought up the anchor and weaved out of the bay between the cruiseships.
Although we were sad to be leaving our friends behind, we were excited for what was to come… even though the excitement was replaced with sheer terror on the first night of our crossing, but I’ll save that for the next post. Thank you for being here, dear reader, we appreciate you! REAL TIME UPDATE: we are in La Cruz repairing our engine… again. Long story, but we should be making our way north into the Sea of Cortez sooner than later. Sending love and fair winds,
Marissa (and Chris and Cleo)