Bahia Magdalena

~ March 5-13, 2019~

So we spent over a week exploring the Bahia Magdalena area. The area is amazing, it has a really big ecological significance for many species including sea turtle, migratory birds, whales and many shellfish.

It also has a really interesting history based around these species dating back over a century.

Above are links to our 3 major anchorages, and below is a summary of our time in Bahia Magdalena.

On the way down from Bahia Santa Maria we crossed paths with this panga, if you look closely you will see they have converted a 4x4 canopy from a truck into a cabin

Bahía Magdalena is a 50 km long bay and is one of only two good all weather anchorage on the West Coast of the Baja Peninsula. 20 miles from Bahia Santa Maria lies the main entrance to the bay and whilst it is deep and pretty wide, we thought we should wait and do it on a rising tide so there would be current in our favour.

Once rounding the corner we headed north to the first good anchorage, "Man of War Cove" about another 10 miles away. We spent several days here, exploring the shore and working on the boat, before moving to another part of the bay for 2 nights. We then headed into the less commonly visited southern part of the bay which is beautiful but requires the navigation of strong currents and narrow channels between sandbars and reefs.

We spent 4 night down here exploring, it was well worth the visit.

We moved from Man O' War cove to a little sand spit closer to San Carlos, the major town in the bay. We need better phone coverage which had been pretty inconsistent over the past few day.

To anchor with some protection we motored continually into the bay, the gradient was really gradual and we went for a mile with the water shallower than 20ft. Ashley decide we had gone in far enough when the depth gauge read 9ft. So we did our circle and dropped the hook. It was a really nice spot and with a beach explore we found more scallop shells than I have ever seen.

Ashley was excited for seashell collecting, but this was one we had never seen before. Know as Wrinkled Pen (Pinna regose) or Callo de Hacha in Mexico. Hopefully we find a fully in tack shell one day.

We left our little anchorage near the Spit of San Carlos around 11. There was still a little wind and we had 12 miles to the entrance to the channel into Bahia Las Almejas which means Clam Bay. Ashley had high hopes for sea shell collections.

We were able to sail, it was a nice downwind run, we were trying to make it there for low tide, there was no current information. The cruising guides mention multiple shoals, and with ranges to line up we made the assumption that there would be current. The navigation was made more difficult by the lack of information and accuracy on the electronic charts.

Unfortunately when we got the start of the channel the wind had built to 18knots and the current was still flowing out. This meant we had plenty of boat speed, but the waves from the wind had become steep standing wave.

When we made the turn to a course that would line up the first range markers, the waves were on the beam. We motor sailed along, and the depth started to shallow quickly. This was expected, but didn't necessarily mean we were in the right spot. Eventually Ashley spotted the range markers on the shore and the depth had steadied and hopefully would soon get deeper.

The current must have started to change in out favour as well. Ashley eventually spotted the Red buoy that was to be our turning mark. It would also be a gybe, so with current behind us and shoals on either side we had to get it right.

We gybed just before the mark and now we were rocketing down to Puerto Alcatraz. The depth had made it to 90 ft so that was good.

The bay of Puerto Alcatraz is protected by a very low beach, we furled away a lot of the genoa and headed in close enough to see that there was pretty good wave protection in the bay, but we continued down 5 miles to the Navy base at Puerto Cortez, which the cruising guides suggested had the better protection.

It was late in the afternoon when we dropped the hook, in behind the breakwater of the Navy Base.

The wind continued to pick up. After half an hour of being anchored, we decided that with the wind blowing us towards the shore and the bow bouncing in the waves, we should move.

So with the last hour of daylight we pulled anchor and motored back up wind and current towards Puerto Alcatraz. The 2.5 miles took us almost an hour, and the sun had set but the time we arrived.

After giving up on the charting software, we used the big spot light and the depth sounder to feel out a spot to anchor in 23 ft of water between the 2 piers on either side of the bay. Let's hope Navionics is wrong because it has us firmly on the land.

The wind was still howling but we were comfortable in our spot and there were no waves.

We ended up in the perfect spot.

So we spent the next day exploring, such a cool little fishing village. The town must have been quite a busy spot in the past, and well worth stopping at. We weren't able to make it to the navy base, but are hoping that we will be able to visit there when we leave Bahia Las Almejas.

The next day we pulled up anchor and cautiously worked our way around to the eastern side of the bay. The cruising guides report that there are some very shallow areas in Bahia Las Almejas, and we weren't looking to get stuck on one of them.

We found an anchorage spot behind a little spit in 13ft of water, that should give us some wind and wave protection, but we were 3 miles from Laguna Tortuga.

That night several Pangas slowed as they passed us. I guess not many cruising boats anchor here. The following day one came alongside, they were from Puerto Alcatraz and were heading into the bay to go diving for clams.

We set off for the lagoon fairly early, as we wanted to be there while the tide was high. We had limited fuel for the dinghy, but we figured the home run would be down wind and current. It was our longest dinghy adventure yet, and running the premium fuel was making the outboard way more reliable.

The lagoon was a lot bigger and went into the dessert a lot further than we expect. It was so strange to see the contrast between the lush green mangrove and the dessert that it bordered on.

We made it to the Lagoon and back without any major issues. It was a full day, the sun was very low in the sky when we finally tied up alongside Royal Venture. We were pretty beat from dragging the dinghy. Tomorrow we would anchor outside Puerto Cortez Navy Base and hopefully walk across the sand dunes to the Pacific.

Well, today didn't go quite as planned. So here is the whole story.

We slept in and had breakfast. Then we pulled anchor and everything was going well. It was under 10 miles to Puerto Cortez. Now with the water being so shallow we headed out super slowly until we we in about 30 ft of water, then we knew it was safe to turn and head across the bay.

It was beautiful and calm out, so we increased speed to about 5 knots, there was not much to note. The sea was calm and there was a larger vessel anchored in the southern end of the Bay. About 10 mins later we heard a weird rattling noise in the area. It wasn't coming from our vessel. I wondered whether it was coming from the other vessel. Maybe laying out heavy chain, about 20 mins after we had increased speed Ashley was down below checking navigation, and I had autopilot on and was looking at the other vessel to see what it was. We had seen multiple fishing boats and a few National Geographic boats in the general area.

It was at about that point that it rapidly got underway.

We heard the VHF radio spring to life: Velero Velero, esta es Naval de Mexico.

I shouted down to Ashley to get the radio, I thought the vessel might have been trying to hail us.

Ashley responded on the radio fairly quickly, and after we identified ourselves we, the person changed to speaking the best english they could. Now the cruising guides suggest that it isn't uncommon for the Mexican navy to board vessels around Magdalena Bay to check papers.

I can't remember word for word what they say, but we both got that they were a Mexican Naval Vessel and they were trying to hail us. Next thing we understood was that they we should stop our vessel and that then there was something about a us being in a training exercise and live fire.

Ashley asks me if I understood what they saying, I said "I think they must be wanting to board us as an exercise and that they would be using live fire."

"What" I hear from down below. "I thought that is what they said, what does that mean?"

"I don't know, I think it means that we are going to be boarded and maybe they will fire a shot across the bow."

So after I took the boat out of autopilot and gear and changed directions to reduce our speed, the patrol boat slowed.

Ashley continued the conversation, and after a while of the Mexican radio operating trying his best english we were able to ascertain that the there was a Mexican Naval aircraft performing live fire exercise in a hill behind Puerto Cortez and the area would be closed until 2 pm, and we wouldn't be able to use the channel to exit the bay.

So we headed a little further north until we were in about 12ft of water and still a mile south of the island north of us and anchored. We called the navy to check if we were okay where we were and again after a long attempt at a conversation we figured we were fine to stay where we were and they returned to where they were anchored in the southern end of the bay.

I guess it's lunch time.

We then trained the binoculars towards the Navy Base, and saw a propellor plane fly in towards the hill and then the mysterious rattling noise (obviously, machine gun fire) and then there was an explosion and smoke started rising from the hill. I guess they hit their target.

The Navy called us back about 1:45 saying that the exercise was over and we could proceed on our journey. When Ashley hailed them before, she called them "Mexican war ship". So when he called us back, he called us "Sailboat war ship" - I guess he thought it was a good translation. We asked if we could go to Puerto Cortez, they said we couldn't until after 3pm and that we would have to call Puerto Cortez before entering at 3.

So we slowly motored to Puerto Cortez, it was a nice calm afternoon and the normal wind wasn't blowing so we were looking forward to checking out this historic area.

At 3 pm exactly when we were less that a quarter mile off the base, we got a call on the radio for Royal Venture.

In perfect english, "This is the Mexican Navy Base Puerto Cortez, you are entering a restricted area please alter course and leave the area."

So we turned north and headed towards Puerto Alcatraz and the exit channel to Bahia Los Alemjas. With the exercises going on I guess we wouldn't get to visit the base.

With current flowing the direction we were heading and the lack of wind we kept going past Alcatraz and exited the bay. This time there was no afternoon wind so we were able to make a pleasant trip to Belcher Bay about a mile from the entrance to Bahia Magdalena.

For our last night in Bahia Magdalena, we wanted to stay close to the entrance to Bahia Magdalena, Belcher's Point was once a whaling station for the British, they hunted the grey whales who bred in the bay. There is not much there anymore, a few shacks and some concrete pilings left behind from a phosphorus loading facility. Mt. Isabel and a small point that gave us protection from the northerly winds.

We did not venture ashore, just sat back enjoyed yet another amazing sunset, I don't think we had a night without an amazing sunset here, each anchorage offed a different background.

We were sad to be leaving so soon, the week went so quickly but we had eaten down most of our fresh food stores and the bright lights of Cabo San Lucas were calling for us.

It would be an overnight mission, 160Nm sail down the last part of the Baja Peninsula. It would be at the limit of a 24 hr trip so we wanted to get an early start so we could arrive in Cabo before sunset.