Considering a sailing adventure to Mexico? Just look at how engrossed that guy is in the book! Grab a copy of the Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico, and you too can find yourself sitting on a Mexican dock with an oversized (but very attractive) hat.

Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico


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Entries in mexico (65)


what a la paz'atively great day

Roughing it.Our immediate "let's get these things done in La Paz" list is getting short so last night and tonight Cora and I went off to reconnoiter. Two targets were high on our list: a place to exercise, and the general layout of our host city.

Last night we dinghied over to El Migote and explored an abandoned palapa. On the plus side it's got a roof and enough strength to support my gymnastic rings, but it was about 20 minutes to motor there and just like living in a city if you need to drive 20 minutes to get to the gym you're probably not going to go.

So instead we went down the malecon (mahl-eh-cone) today and found that the beach has a bunch of little palapas, is offset from the main street a bit, can have a dinghy beached easily, and is close to Rebel Heart's current position.

The bags are packed tomorrow to head to the "gym", which will consist solely of the 53lb kettlebell, a pad of leather, and some kicks for running around doing sprints in the sand. Oh, and my kick-ass sound system. So for any La Paz residents if you hear Tupac or Dre down on the beach tomorrow morning: sorry bros that's just how I roll. 

But for tonight half of our children are already asleep, the other is working on it, and things are good. I ended up reading all these horrible stories on wikipedia today and it sounds trite to say, but the difference between having your healthy family on a yacht in a tropical paradise and being all f'd up by circumstance or your own mistakes (or both) is a very thin line.

One car accident, one careless mistake, or a twist of fate through no fault of your own can seal you off from your dreams forever. 

For any of you readers out there that are in the mental, physical, or financial throws of trying to get a boat "out here", keep the faith and don't quit. It's not all peaches and cream down here but it is worth it. You've got the whole rest of your life to sit around not sailing.


we la paz'atively arrived

Charlotte and Cora reading up on the channel entrance.We left Bahia de Muertos and motored up the flats to Balandra. Spending the night there we learned it's somewhat like a bipolar friend. When things are good, it's great. But when things are bad, it's a nightmare.

I had heard that the Corumel winds described as a "nice cool breeze at nights to cool the La Paz area down". What we did not expect was from 6pm to 10am to have 20-30 knots howling at us with jagged rocks 100' to leeward. 

Since then the Corumels have been more subdued, but they can start anytime before or after sunset and can be weak or pack a nasty punch. A protip for anyone headed to La Paz: don't get lazy with your ground tackle and don't leave anything out at night that can blow away.

La Paz water is mill pond flat.The water so far in La Paz has been mill pond flat. The Pacific swells don't get up this high but again the Corumels with their wind and chop are waiting for you at night time. Plus, La Paz "harbor" itself has a ~3-4 knot tidal speed so the apparently flat conditions don't necessarily translate to benign, especially when you tack on that La Paz is sitting happily in the hurricane belt.

We've only been in La Paz for a few days so I'm reserving judgement, but it's definitely more boat friendly than mainland Mexico. Our galley freshwater pump broke the day after we dropped anchor and we were able to find a replacement within a couple of hours: completely unheard of for the majority of Mexico. In fact I can honestly say that Lopez Marine in La Paz might be the only store in Mexico that sells those products and much else.

Fishing: it's what you do in Baja.So after three weeks of beating up ourselves and our boat there are some things that need to get addressed here in port.

Everything from dentists visits for the family to engine oil changes for the boat, it's time to take care of ourselves and of the boat that has taken such good care of us. 

Plus, we get to check out this La Paz'atively cool city, meet new friends, and hopefully catch up with some old ones as well as they trickle in from the jungle-heat of the mainland. 


living life in the bay of the dead

Charlotte and Cora, Rebel Heart in the background. Click to enlarge.We are here in Bahia de los Muertos, so named because permanent moorings in Spanish are called: muertos. So although "Bay of the Dead" sounds really spooky-awesome, a more accurate and less literal translation would be "Mooring Bay".

There used to be a silver mine here and a lot of ships would load silver from a nearby mine, thus requiring a pier and permanent moorings.

The mine ran dry and the name doesn't sit well with developers so it's been renamed to Bahia de los Suenos, or The Bay of Dreams. In 1885 a Chinese fishing boat wasn't allowed into La Paz because of Yellow Fever: 18 crewman died waiting in Bahia de los Muertos. So regardless of what future condo developers may want, there are indeed dead things in the bay no matter how you want to slice it.

The lower spreader bar is perfect for knocking out a set of pullups. Click to enlarge.For our first taste of Baja as a family things are pretty darn nice. We're, as usual, waiting on weather, so we decided to go the beach today and we tried out the new suncover. I initially crapped all over the idea of such a device but I stand corrected. It can make the difference between dying on the beach or hanging out happy for hours on end.

I spent the first few hours of today doing my job. It's been a real learning experience over the last couple of weeks. I've done three conference calls underway, two with my satellite phone, and another in cell range paralleling the coast. We were motoring in flat conditions so I dropped the RPMs down and went up onto the foredeck to get some quiet.

Hey bro, you want some dorado? Click to enlarge.Last but not least we waved to some guys in a panga who then came up on the beach and asked us if we wanted a kilo of mahi mahi (in the bag, not the fish he's holding).

The rather friendly guy had the coolest name in the world: Eric. He works for Beulah Fly Rods and has the horrible work schedule of spending two months in Baja taking clients fishing. 

The wind is gusting around 20 knots but there's only a 1/3 mile of fetch so no big thing and hopefully we'll have a nice peaceful night's rest.


weather for a westward crossing the southern sea of cortez

Crossing the Sea of Cortez is a pretty normal affair for most boats on the Pacific side of Mexico. The Sea of Cortez offers many advantages to mainland Mexico.

In San Carlos many people haul their boats for the summer and leave them on blocks, somewhat safely out of the hurricane belt. The Baja side of the Sea is littered with beautiful islands, beautiful bays, interesting cities, clear warm water, and no mosquitoes to speak of.

La Paz represents the hub of Baja sailing, is a large city, and has numerous marine services and products that are in short supply elsewhere in Mexico. Additionally, you can rent a car and drive the ~800 miles to San Diego to purchase big expensive items, sneaking them back across the border (bypassing Mexican customs and the insanely expensive shipping rates).

So for as many boats do the mainland -> Baja 200 mile migration every year there was conspicuously little written about the transit. Diesel isn't getting any cheaper and although it's true that running your engine is synonymous with being on the west coast, from doing this trip twice now and studying the weather a bit both times I feel like I can offer some suggestions.

There are five primary weather patterns in the Sea of Cortez.

Cyclonic, in the case of tropical storms moving north and wreaking havoc, represent the first type.

The second type are chubascos which is a general Spanish word for storm but in the Sea it refers to northern high pressure that builds up and then vents out south across the sea. These are dangerous and do not cross when they are happening or within 12-24 hours of their dissipation as they generate a very short period sloppy wave train that hasn't had the distance to mature into a swell.

The third type is general northern winds (N-NW), 5-15 knots. This represents 80% of the time on the Sea. When heading south or south east, these are the winds you want.

The fourth type is glass. Waters so flat you can honestly stop the boat and jump in for a few hours. Water so flat that when stopped you can remember calm anchorages with more roll period. If you're motoring, these are the conditions you want.

And lastly, and sadly least, there is the type of wind you want for heading west or north west: non-cyclonic southerlies. Just nice happy 10-20 knot breezes out of the more-or-less south. We started seeing more and more of these 1-3 day periods as late April and early May showed up. Conveniently there are periods of glassy conditions typically between southerlies and northerlies, as the weather switches around. 

I'd highly recommending crossing from Mazatlan if you can. We hop-scotched from Punta Mita to San Blas to Mazatlan then hopped over. Some boats stopped in Isle Isabela as well.

Regardless, crossing from Mazatlan with a day or two of southerlies puts in you a great spot for reaching the east cape of Baja. If you can really nail the weather you'd want glass off Mazatlan, building to southerlies quickly, which will give you some clear weather to negotiate the breakwaters and vessel traffic.

Then you'd want the southerlies for as long as you feel it would take to get you within a few hours of Baja. There are no good southerly protected anchorages in southern Baja and even if you found them, southerlies flip quickly and you'll probably want some rest.

So study the weather, have hope that you indeed find decent weather windows when going "uphill" in the Sea, and if you want to be a sailboat more than a motor boat just be prepared to focus on timing and opportunities. 


made it (back) across the sea of cortez

We're sitting in Muertos Cove, maybe 60 miles south of La Paz. It took just about two days to get across the Sea of Cortez and in an awesome twist of fate we were able to beam reach (sail) across at about 5 knots in reasonable comfort. 

There's a south swell rolling into the anchorage here but we're going to brave the chop and take the dinghy to the single restaurant on the beach. 


mazatlan harbor pilot hopping off the ferry

Click to enlarge.The guy in the white shirt at the bottom of the ladder is the harbor pilot for Mazatlan. His job is to board (and disembark from) vessels heading in and out of the bay. This was the La Paz ferry and I saw the tiny little door with the Hotel flag (white/red) open.

The pilot boat zooms underneath and pins itself to the moving ferry, and the harbor pilot scrambles down. In some ports they actually pick them up and drop them off with helicopters.

Harbor pilots are worth a read if you've never checked out the profession. Their job is all about handling huge ships in tight confines and doing it perfectly, not to mention having the physical prowess to hop from one moving vessel to another or from aircraft. It's an old job as well. The earliest harbor pilots on record date back to 700 BC.


and sometimes north american paternalism is dead on

Great way to drown at sea.From the "thank god I'm not on that death trap" file...

Sitting in the Mazatlan anchorage this morning we watched this coffin-of-the-sea head out past the breakwaters, overloaded with families who are under the false impression that they are safe aboard this "vessel". 

Lacking in PFD's (life jackets), equipped with two life rings and no life rafts, what will have these people returning safe to the dock is simply the odds that on a calm day like today you can get away with carelessness. 

But the ocean doesn't suffer fools for very long. In what seemed like a personal reminder to me, two years ago the Mexican sport fishing vessel Erik capsized and spilled all its passengers into the Sea of Cortez. Floating for twelve hours no one on shore knew there was a problem until the first survivors crawled up onto the beach.

So, United States Coast Guard, with all your laws and regulation, I love you.


met our friends and scoped out the mazatlan aquarium

I keep the fires of industry burning from Latin America.My day started by tracking down the "computer room" which is a hut of sorts on top of another building. It's Mexico so it's of course made of concrete. Marginally acceptable broadband with solid 4G coverage and I was able to do my job for a few hours this morning. To the untrained reader of my emails and recipients of my phone calls I may have managed to come across as not being in developing nation with a two guys arguing behind me in Spanish about a missing hammer (true story).

Us with our friends from Jean Maria in a Mazatlan pulmonia.We have friends on a sailboat named Jean Marie that we were lucky enough to meet in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle a few months back and when we checked in on the Mazatlan VHF net, they hailed us we made plans for checking out the Mazatlan Aquarium today so we could catch up and the kids could play together. They've been dealing with engine issues for a while but apparently they're going to be all straightened out next week, and leaving for the La Paz area (our destination) with the quickness.

The Sea of Cortez is really diesel territory and without one you'll spend a lot of time waiting for weather. Similar to the west coast of the USA, going north with the wind is basically impossible and unlike the Pacific where you can dogleg your way via Hawaii, there's no Hawaii in El Mar de Cortez. Sailing in the Sea of Cortez when needing to make any northbound progress is really "motoring" in the Sea of Cortez.

The aquarium itself was cool. Charlotte read off some of the tripadvisor reviews last night and it's funny listening to people who consider themselves to be the arbiter of good times. One reviewer complained that it was all in Spanish (we're ~1500 miles south of the border) and another that the cages were too small and that these things would never be tolerated in Canada. There is a level of smug superiority dripping with paternalism that seems to be the domain of the North American left. Always ready to espouse their own culture's level of advancement compared to our backwards neighbors to the south. I'm guilty of it sometimes my self so I find it especially offensive: the things we dislike most in others are usually traits we posses ourselves.

One of my favorite things about visiting other cultures is getting a chance to see the contrasts between their way of life and my own. There are a lot of things that I take for granted as "normal" but then you start to see that there are multiple "normals" out there. That in turn shows that so much of society, the bedrock of our experiences, is quite fluid and that we blindly accept a lot of norms for which there are quite functional alternatives. I know this is sociology 101, but it's more poignant when it's in your face.

Well, that's it for now. We're still waiting on weather and will go climb the lighthouse tomorrow.

Hasta luego.


pit stop in mazatlan

On approach to Mazatlan, five miles out.We were offshore motoring in glass conditions offshore of the Mexican mainland and needed to make the decision: make a left towards Baja ~300 miles away with our 30 gallons of fuel onboard, or head into Mazatlan for fuel and water.

The Sea of Cortez usually has two wind states: mirror flat or howling out of the north west. So when you want to go north west (our direction) you either have to beat to windward (which sucks) or wait for the glass and motor across. I'm bummed we stopped but at the same time it will be nice to arrive in Baja with our senses and not be bone dry in water and fuel needing to race into a marina.

Rebel Heart is the top of the three sailboats there on the top right.

We dropped the hook in Mazatlan's "old port" municipal anchorage. It's a rather packed in anchorage and there are commercial vessels that need to get in and out (not just through the main channel) so I spent an extra few minutes of motoring around to pick a spot that hopefully wouldn't have a barge howling at us in the wee hours of the morning because we were blocking its path.

Cora and I split from the boat early to drop off laundry and reconnoiter. It's a military strategy that I find works equally well in the yachting world: at a new landfall, send an advance party out to conduct a basic survey and understand the lay of the land before you make a lot of decisions. 

Cora, at the El Faro lighthouse in Mazatlan. Mazatlan apparently boasts the world's second highest lighthouse and my awesome little 2 3/4 year old daughter walked the entire way up by herself, and back down again, thank you very much. So if you ever feel winded going up there just realize a toddler did it with less fuss: that's motivation ladies and gentlemen.

We're planning on leaving Friday, although we were also planning on being in the middle of the Sea of Cortez today. Tomorrow we're meeting up with some friends to go check out Mazatlan's aquarium


slumming it in san blas

Yes, life is hard sometimes.Today marked day three (I think) of being in San Blas, our boat anchored in Matanchen Bay. It's very cool and creepy at the same time. Imagine a mile with fifty outdoor restuarants that can each seat one hundred people. Now imagine them them all empty yet staffed: welcome to Mantenchen Bay.

We read about a three hour river boat (modified panga) trip up into the estuary to see crocodiles and some interesting wildlife. In America this would cost an arm and a leg, but here in Mexico it's about $10 a head. So, off to the crocodiles we go tomorrow morning with a 0530 wake up that I still need to set up.

We're still waiting on weather which looks like it might clear by Monday but we may end up motoring the ~300 miles to Baja which is kind of lame. The alternative is to wait around in San Blas forever until some southern winds magically appear and none are forecast for the next week at least. 

Cora showing an important lesson to all rescuers: bad swimmers try to drown you.

Today was a happy day on a few levels. We all jumped in the water, we all took deck showers, and I bare-assed around the topsides not giving a single f. 

I managed to get a bit of corporate work done as well, taking a few conference calls and being hopefully quick about the mute button because "quiet" is one thing a Mexican city is not. You basically have to choose between silence and infrastructure. 

One other thing to mention about San Blas, and it's hard to quantify the scope, are the bugs. Jejenes, mosquitoes, flies, gnats, and creatures from your darkest nightmares fly around with reckless abandon. They suck your blood, they bite, they infect, they wound, and they annoy.

We did learn the incredibly cool technique of burning coconut husks which smolder sort of like incense and they do indeed keep most of our flying enemies away. Putting our cast iron pan up on the bowsprit with some shackles underneath to keep the heat off the wood, I was quite happy with how it all worked out.