Right now, several hundred U.S. boat owners (power and sail) are preparing themselves and their vessels to leap off from Southern California this fall, to bounce their way down Baja and plunge into the thrilling but unfamiliar world of Mexico cruising. Bravo, them!
Among the first boats to head south will be about 100 members of the annual Baja Ha Ha sailboat group and about 50 members of the CUBAR power boat fleet.
By some quirk of fate, both these groups will depart San Diego around Halloween, and will arrive on Nov. 3 or 4 in the small fishing village of Turtle Bay – about halfway down Baja.
Soon to follow will be at least 1,000 additional cruising and fishing boats, according to the Mexican Fisheries office. About half of them will be independent boaters who’ve planned this adventure for years, some departing in November as their insurance allows, while others will hold off until just after the holidays.
The rest are likely to be newbies. During the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, the U.S. experienced record-breaking yacht sales, and the primary reason stated by first-time boaters was stress relief. As we West Coasters approach the winter of 2022-2023, they’re all planning to follow the dream of cruising south into the tropical sunset.
“Just head south and turn left at Cabo San Lucas,” is encouraging advice for Mexico newbies – but it’s misleading. After the comforts of Ensenada, the next 320 miles southeast (not south) to Turtle Bay include no marinas, fuel docks, groceries, or chandlers. But more challenging on this first big leap is the infamous scarcity of reliable overnight anchorages. We have to get a good night’s sleep while underway, and be prepared to “keep on keeping on.”
HERE’S THE WAY TO TURTLE BAY
San Diego to Ensenada (65 n.m.): Expect a VHF call from the Mexican Navy near the Coronado Islands. Stay three miles east of South Coronado Island to avoid (1.) fish pens to starboard and (2.) Rosarito Beach’s offshore tanker mooring buoys to port. At about 40 miles south of the border, stay three miles off the outer breakwaters of the LNG ship terminal on Punta Salsipuedes. Stay .75 of a mile off Punta San Miguel and a mile off until you reach Marina Coral’s slightly “S” curved entrance or go two more miles to enter Ensenada harbor.
Do your port clearance here, fix things, cook meals ahead, enjoy any of four nice marinas.
Ensenada to San Quintin (110 n.m.): At 12 n.m. past Punta Banda, stay two miles west of craggy Punta Santo Tomas to avoid a pinnacle rock with kelp. Flat-topped Cabo Colonet is the next landmark 65 miles south of Ensenada. Marginal anchorages is possible SE of the point. From here it’s a straight 30-mile run to Isla San Martin, shaped like a coolie hat. Avoid the presumed location of submerged Ben’s Rock two miles due south of this island; it breaks occasionally but dangerously. From Isla San Martin, it’s 9.5 miles to Cabo San Quintin (pronounced “keen TEEN”) dotted by volcano peaks. Round the point but stay outside the field of shoal breakers and head NE for 2.5 to 3.5 miles to the vast anchorage south of the sandspit called Playa Santa Maria. Don’t enter the shallow inner bay.
San Quintin anchorage is this region’s only overnight rest stop; no town, no cell service. Expect reliable shelter in prevailing Northwesterlies, but it’s wide open to southwest and south.
San Quintin to Cedros Island (130 n.m.): It’s 38 miles to the ship-killer Sacramento Reef, so be about 10 miles west of Punta San Antonio to avoid the reef. With a good weather window, here’s where you jump offshore to cross Vizcaino Bay, making landfall on Cedros Island’s north point. Expect big following seas on this 85 mile crossing, then a welcome lee for 21 miles as you make southing along the east side of Cedros Island. Be alert for ship and barge traffic from Guerrero Negro crossing to and from Cedros Town and El Morro salt docks. (If you’ve already cleared into Mexico at Ensenada, you could request an emergency stop to enter Cedros Town’s small commercial harbor.)
Cedros Island to Turtle Bay (35 n.m.): From 1.5 miles east of El Morro salt piles, lay a 12-mile course for the middle of the 4-mile gap between Isla Natividad and Punta Eugenia (pronounced “Ee-you-HAYN-yah”). Expect turbulent mixing of currents here. From 2 miles west of Punta Eugenia Light, you can point-hop 17 miles southeast (bypassing Bahia Quebrada) to scope out the entrance to Turtle Bay from about 27°38.5’N, 114°54.0’W. Favor the left side of the 1-mile wide opening between Punta Saragaso to your left and the pinnacle Rock Entrada to your right, and head 1.5 miles northeast to the town anchorage around the tall fuel pier on the northeast shore of this 2.5-mile wide bay.
Turtle Bay: If fuel is your priority, hail “Enrique fuel service” on VHF 16 as you come to anchor. Order your desired quantity by radio. Take your fuel from either (1.) the fuel panga that comes alongside your boat at anchor, preferably close northeast of the pier, using their wimpy pump, or (2.) by you med mooring (stern to) as close as comfortable off the outer end of the pier. The pier is about 15 feet tall at mid low tide, so if the attendant doesn’t drop you a messenger line, consider using a monkey fist to get the eye of your longest side spring dock lines up on the pier. Prices are in pesos for liters, and due to its remoteness, Turtle Bay generally has the most expensive diesel in Baja. Complaints about inaccurate measures are frequent, such as charging for 75 gallons into a 50-gallon tank.
Going ashore? If you leave your dinghy near the pier’s rickety stairs, secure it well off to the side so it doesn’t block panga-passenger access. The small dinghy beach is usually west of the pier, where dinghy wheels come in handy. But if the panga fishermen are pulling ashore east of the pier, there’s probably a reason.
The ruins of the 1923 cannery are visible behind the pier. Tons of abalone, lobster and tuna canned here were shipped to the US and Asia before it closed in 1990. An abalone nursery here is replenishing the region.
Store names change, but Anaid’s, La Purisma, El Yaki have had fresh provisions. Stock up on “bolillos,” Baja’s unique bread, also local eggs, honey, avocados, oranges and garden greens.
Next time, we’ll get from Turtle Bay to Magdalena Bay.