Cabo to La Paz

While we enjoyed our brief stay in Cabo San Lucas, our primary goal was to complete our check-in, refuel and quickly move on to La Paz which lies approximately 145 miles north inside the Sea of Cortez. I had taken 2-weeks vacation for the trip to Cabo so far and we would use La Paz as our working base for the next few weeks. The passage from Cabo to La Paz is usually ‘uphill’ meaning that the wind and waves are going against you. The weather report for the next several days showed moderate conditions with calm periods overnight, so we decided to ‘bank’ some vacation days and go non-stop to La Paz with one more overnight passage. While we were somewhat accustomed to overnight passages, this would be the first where we are truly on our own – no schedule, no accompanying fleet, no check-ins. I wasn’t so much concerned about being without other boats around, but it weighed a bit on Kristin as a new factor. I was more concerned about timing the passage correctly so that we arrived at the narrow San Lorenzo Channel which separates Isla Espiritu Santo and the La Paz peninsula after dawn so that we had a visual on the channel markers to avoid the treacherous reef off of the island.

But first things first. Before we could leave Cabo we had to refuel, I wanted to find a bank and get some Pesos, and get a Telcel SIM card for our internet router. Kristin took inventory of our fridge and we decided we could wait until La Paz to get groceries. Patsy gave us a tip that the diesel is a bit cheaper at Marina de Baja which we passed by on the way into the harbor, so on our errand run on Friday Kristin and I also walked over to the other marina to check out the fuel dock and make sure that they are open on Saturday. To non-boaters it might seem strange to walk 1/4 of a mile to check out a fuel dock, but in an unfamiliar area it’s invaluable to see where you’ll approach the dock and what to expect in advance.

The rest of the afternoon I spent changing the engine oil and filters so that we’d be starting on new filters on our first tank of Mexican fuel. Our Beta 50 engine has a large oil capacity (9.5 liters) which allows it to go 250 hours between oil changes, but also means you have to have a means to contain that much used oil for the oil change. Before leaving San Diego I ordered a couple of 3-gallon collapsible water jugs for the occasion. This would allow me to pump the oil from the engine into the collapsible jug, then after changing the filter and re-filling with new oil I could transfer the used oil back into the now empty oil jugs for disposal. The collapsible jug can then be collapsed, wiped down and stored under the cabin sole until the next oil change. The setup worked perfectly and within short order I had the new oil in and the used oil in jugs ready for the marina to pick up for disposal (one of the services the marina provides).

Greg leaning over the engine changing the oil

In the meantime, Kristin was tasked with finding a nice restaurant with outdoor seating we could go to and celebrate our arrival. She chose Los Tres Gallos and since we didn’t have a reservation we decided on arriving right when they open. It was a good thing we did. When we arrived the hostess checked her reserved tables and asked us to step on a wet mat to disinfect our shoes, took our temperature and guided us over to a beautiful tile sink to wash our hands. We had a nice table to ourselves in a corner of the courtyard, but all of the other tables were reserved. Kristin had the Cochinita Pibil and I had the Carnitas de chamorro and we both had two rounds of delicious jamaica (hibiscus) margaritas. Even the salsas were extraordinary. Dinner was a bit pricey by Mexican standards, but the quality was better than any gourmet Mexican food I’ve ever had.

Kristin with a margarita
Greg with carnitas
chips and salsa

After dinner as we walked back to the marina we passed by many night clubs blasting EDM music. It seemed so incongruous to be in this beautiful part of Mexico and hear a soundscape that could be from any big American city. It was still early, but even so each nightclub that we passed with flashing lights and blaring music only were empty except for a few staff members sitting around staring at their phones. We did, however came across a little curbside shoe store where we grabbed some knock-off Crocs for Kristin for 100 pesos for the beach.

The strange urban sounds of Cabo reverberated throughout the marina all night and confirmed our decision to move on to La Paz.

Saturday morning we were up early to check out of the marina and get over to the fuel dock. After refueling we were underway for La Paz by 7 AM. Most of the morning was cloudy with light winds from the north. As expected we were motoring against the wind and waves.

Departing Cabo at dawn
fishing boats in the distance off of rocky point near Cabo San Lucas
Town of Cabo San Lucas at dawn

“Woo hoo! We are in the Sea of Cortez!” I exclaimed as I realized we had entered a new body of water. It felt different than the Pacific too – less big rolling swells but more steep short chop. I let the moment sink in that here we were, actually doing what we had dreamed of for many years.

By 10:00 AM we were motoring past San Jose del Cabo and found good enough cell coverage to receive a call from my brother. It was great to catch up with him and get an update on the family. We both commented how it was a bit surreal to be able to have a conversation with family almost 2000 miles away while we are motoring offshore in a foreign country. The marvels of modern communications.

As I finished my call with my brother Kristin was excitedly studying the Sea of Cortez cruising guide. Now that we are in the Sea we were finally approaching the destinations described and beautifully photographed in the guide. Kristin was commenting about the narrow pass in the Canal de San Lorenzo when behind her – Whoosh! Splash! – a humpback whale no more than 100 yards from our port side came fully out of the water and bodyslammed back down onto the surface, sending spray in all directions.

“Wha-wha-oh-my-gosh! Kristin look! Get your camera!” I stammered as I tried to get her to look up and turn around. Kristin turned I think expecting to see something far on the horizon as we usually do when – Whoosh! Splash! – another humpback breached close on our port side.

“OOOHH MYYY GOSHHHH!!!!” Kristin exclaimed.

I turned off the autopilot and grabbed the wheel. The whales were close enough that I wanted to be ready to make a quick turn if necessary.

We watched in wonder as the whales seemed to follow us for close to 15 minutes. We imagined that they were jubilantly welcoming us to the Sea of Cortez.

Humpback whales breaching in the Sea of Cortez (best shots are toward the end)

In the excitement of seeing the whales we forgot about the choppy conditions and the drone of the motor as we pushed north against the wind. We continued on and as we rounded Cabo Pulmo and Punta Arena the winds and chop settled down and by dark we were motoring again in light northerly winds and just a small chop on the seas. Unlike on the western side of Baja we could see the lights of villages dotting the shoreline and the occasional headlamps of a car or truck slowly winding its way along the coast. I imagined the people in those villages going about their evening activities and I found some comfort in that image.

Unlike our passages with the Nada, that evening it was a rarity to see another boat on the AIS display. We did see a couple of boats in the anchorages we would have otherwise stopped at – Cabo Los Frailes and Ensenada de los Muertos – but otherwise it was a quiet and lonely motor in the darkness toward La Paz.

The night watches started and I could tell that Kristin was still anxious about the two channels we would navigate between an island and the peninsula. I checked our position and the ETA to the next waypoint.

“This is perfect. Your watch will be just straight on our our current heading, then on my watch we’ll pass between Punta Arena de la Ventana and Isla Cerralvo and late at night it should be fairly calm. It’s the afternoon winds and waves that makes that channel difficult. Then after that it will be your watch again and it will be a straight shot up toward the Canal de San Lorenzo.” I reasoned.

“That won’t be on my watch will it?” Kristin asked.

“No, we should arrive there just after dawn on my watch and I’ll be able to have a good visual of the island and the markers and the seas should be fairly calm. The timing is working out just right.”

And it was just right. We navigated past Isla Cerralvo and arrived at the entrance to Canal de San Lorenzo right at dawn. We could easily make out the point and the reef markers. It was an easy motor around the point and we were in Bahia de La Paz.

sunrise over Isla del Espirito Santo
Approaching Canal de San Lorenzo, looking back at Isla Cerralvo at dawn

The entrance to Canal de La Paz where the city anchorages and marinas are located is a bit tricky. There is a long shallow shoal that extends 2.5 miles along the coast with a single small entrance at the north end. The entrance takes a bit of a dog-leg turn, so there are a series of markers that jog left and right as you enter. It’s well-described in the guide though so we had no issues. Once inside the canal it’s a long straight marked channel to the south end and the marinas and free anchorages.

Before the Nada started I had asked about marinas with good internet connectivity and Patsy recommended Marina de La Paz, so we booked a reservation in advance. I’m so glad we did as this would definitely be our preferred marina in La Paz. The staff are wonderfully helpful and the facilities are clean and well-maintained. The internet works really well and everything we need is close by. This would be the perfect base for us for the next few weeks as we get some work done and explore La Paz and the surrounding area.

Sonrisa at Marina de la Paz
Sonrisa at Marina de La Paz

Once we got tied up and checked in we celebrated our arrival with a big burger at The Dock Cafe which is literally a stone’s throw from Sonrisa.

Hello La Paz, we’re home (at least for the next month)!

La Paz sign on Malecon