Fall is in the air, so a couple thousand of you adventurous recreational boaters are making plans to visit Mexico’s wonderful cruising grounds. This includes not only the Baja Ha Ha and CUBAR folks but also the brave individualists who head south in their wakes. Viva Yatistas!
The first of November is considered the end of hurricane season in the eastern Pacific, a date when boaters’ insurance companies say they are pretty much free to wander about the tropics. So as southbound preparations are underway, the Log and I are helping cruisers plan how to get safely down the outside of the Baja California peninsula and aim toward warmer climes.
The last time we departed Turtle Bay, we picked Plan A or Plan B for crossing the Bay of Vizcaino, noted a few landmarks and navigational hazards to avoid, then explored Magdalena Bay. This time let’s depart Mag Bay and continue about 175 n.m. down Baja to the Los Cabos region.
Mag Bay Exit
Canal Rehusa means Reject Canal, so don’t try to exit (or enter) Mag Bay at its narrow southern aperture; it boils with breakers, rip currents, rock reefs, and 6-mile mud flats.
No, we prudent mariners exit through the 2.75 n.m. wide entrance where we came into Mag Bay, but we’re heading out with Punta Entrada a mile to port.
Isla Santa Margarita is Mag Bay’s 20-mile-long southern barrier island. Coasting a mile or so off the outer shore of this island provides some dramatic sightseeing, from steep cliffs and 1,856-foot peaks to deep canyon views.
And then we pass the magnificent 5-mile-long sand dunes that climb more than a mile inland. An oceanographer once told me that these dunes must have been whipped up from the sea floor eons ago by a really strong hurricane.
Punta Tosca lighthouse marks the tail end of Isla Santa Margarita. Clear this point by at least half a mile due to trailing rocks, and stay in 90 to 100 feet.
After Tosca, we set our next few courses or waypoints to eventually reach Cabo Falso about 125 to 140 n.m. down the coast. Our courses here should be determined by (1.) the immediate sea conditions in our vicinity, (2.) the weather forecast (wind, seas, current) that covers our next 125-140 n.m. southeast, and (3.) by our boat’s sea keeping ability and crew safety.
A straight-line course is most direct, of course, taking us at some points as much as 20 n.m. offshore – out where the big waves roam. This course line, often favored by cruise ships north and southbound, follows the outer edge of the gradually sloping Magdalena Shelf to port.
To starboard of this direct course line, the sea floor is dynamic with the Magdalena Escarpment, putting some excellent sportfishing grounds (marlin, yellowtail, giant sea bass) within reasonable proximity: 5.8 Meter Spot, Finger Banks, Golden Bank and Jaime Banks.
However, on our bee-line course for Cabo Falso, if we encounter too large of following seas that give our boat an uncomfortable fish-tailing ride or that threaten to overpower our autopilot, well, that’s no fun. So we’d probably angle our course a bit more east-southeast to find calmer seas, then angle again toward Cabo Falso while traveling in more than 100 feet of water.
Loosely following this low-lying coast about five miles off usually keeps us in 5- to 100 feet of water, and it usually (not always) gives us smaller seas and lower wind speeds – which always make for a gentler ride.
The shoreline along this first half is mostly uninhabited. Then dirt roads occasionally parallel the beach. The Magdalena Shelf narrows and ends around Todos Santos, which is also the first place we can usually see the vehicle or their headlights on Highway 19, a paved road that ends 50 miles south at Cabo San Lucas.
But besides the fact that the coastal route adds about 15 n.m. to this leg, we’d also need to adjust our curving course more frequently. And we’d find ourselves frequently in the vicinity of big shrimpers and little pangueros who are actively fishing, day or night, especially near Punta El Conejo, Los Innocentes, Punta Gasparino, and Todos Santos. So to avoid such vessel traffic, our coastal lookout might need to pay closer attention than if we were traveling 20 n.m. offshore.
The term “Los Cabos” is plural, referring to both Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, which lies about 16 n.m. farther east.
Cabo Falso Light (22°52.7’N, 109°57.6’W) on a skeleton tower stands a bit east of the original lighthouse, Faro Viejo, built in 1905, now restored. Turning east, it’s still 4.5 n.m. around the corner to Land’s End and Bahia San Lucas – St. Luke Bay.
Cabo San Lucas is the bustling resort town casually called “Cabo.” A deep submarine canyon runs E-W through the wide outer bay, limiting anchoring to a narrow 2-mile sandy shelf that drops off steeply. Cruise ships anchor in the deep middle. This bay provides good shelter in prevailing Northwesterlies but is wide open to south swell. The man-made inner harbor holds two marinas, two fuel docks, and a 70-ton boat yard. Provisioning is excellent.
San Jose del Cabo is a more quaint traditional town. Known as “San Jose,” it has no anchoring bay, but its smaller man-made inner harbor (municipal) houses a marina, fuel dock, and 200-ton boat yard. Provisioning is excellent here as well, and it has an international airport.
Fall approaches, and all 650 slips in the Los Cabos region have already been booked up, seemingly by last fall’s boaters who were stuck here due to the quarantine. It seems like the awkward “slip shortage” of 20 years ago has returned. I guess it was too much of a good thing.
Next time, we’ll make many interesting stops as we cruise from Los Cabos around East Cape and up to La Paz in the Sea of Cortez.