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Seeking Shelter from Screaming Blue Northers

“March winds blow” isn’t just a whimsical adage like April showers and May flowers. But, for springtime boaters in Mexican waters, it’s the key to route planning. Here’s why.

During March and early April, a unique weather pattern called a Plateau High can develop over the mountain plateaus of mid and southern Nevada, often forcing the surface winds to flow outward from the center of the high-pressure area.


For boaters in northwest Mexico, winds that originated in the Nevada Plateau are felt as cold and dry, blowing from the north toward the south and southwest. Of course, most of the time, you’ll find good cruising and fishing weather. Not every breath of wind from the north came from Nevada. Sometimes it’s just a short-duration blast of the north wind that spilled over from a winter storm sliding down from the Pacific Northwest.


But when a Plateau High settles in, as it can do during March, those north winds in northern Mexico tend to increase (15 to 28 knots or more) and can blow steadily, day and night, sometimes lasting five or six days with no respite.  


That’s called a “Nortada” or a “Norther.” When a true Norther blows, it can rake Baja California’s Pacific coast down to about Magdalena Bay, and in the elongated Sea of Cortez, a bad Norther can affect the whole 700-mile length.


Northers usually start in the far upper Sea of Cortez, then may build in strength and spread laterally to affect outside Baja. They taper off in strength as they move south. True Northers rarely reach south of Isla Cerralvo on the Baja side or south of Punta Mita on the mainland side.




A Norther’s gale-force winds and big square seas can disrupt navigation for commercial ships, so they can easily inhibit movement for us relatively small cruising yachts and sportfishers. Once we get securely anchored or plugged into a cozy slip, it isn’t easy to go elsewhere.


As a Norther persists, the sea surface and horizon can become obscured by salt spray and a lifting blue-white spume. Visibility plummets tremendously, and windshields get shellacked. The sky even darkens. That’s what’s called a Blue Norther.


But for us cruising folks and sportfishers, when we get pinned down for days on end, when we can’t poke our noses out, when boaters at anchor can’t even get ashore, that’s when the screaming starts – on the VHF radio, across the cockpit at each other, and screaming into the wind-swept heavens: Stop Blowing!

Seriously though, the reasonable approach is to know in advance (a.) when a Norther will start and (b.) where to head for shelter before it does.




Here’s how. Watch the U.S. weather reports for the first signs of a potential Norther in Mexico. That will be a zone of high pressure (perhaps 1039 millibars or higher) that stops moving and gets stationary over mid-to-southern Nevada. Subsequently, high-wind warnings may be posted for land traffic traversing the desert and mountain passes, such as big rig trucks that get blown over.


For an excellent online weather forecast covering the outside of Baja, the entire Sea of Cortez, and the mainland as far south as the Gulf of Tehuantepec, I suggest you visit This text report is produced by NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the boaters’ friend.

NOAA gives an offshore marine forecast, ideal for major weather events, long offshore leaps, and crossing from Baja to the mainland or back. Yet the winds and sea conditions closer to shore can sometimes be quite different.


If you have a good internet connection, I suggest using the app. It’s good for recreational boating in Mexico because it gives almost real-time wind and sea conditions and considers specific terrain features that influence coastal weather. It can even predict conditions up to seven days in advance.


For example (see photo), shows three days before the start of a dreaded “Elefante,” a strong but narrow blast of wind that ventures down gaps in Baja’s Sierra San Francisco and sprays out into the Sea of Cortez at 15 to 25 knots. Elefantes often surprise boaters otherwise enjoying bland traveling weather in the central Sea of Cortez.


The Corumel is another example. This unique breeze sometimes starts from the Pacific and across a terrain gap, then funnels down into the La Paz area at night. is graphics-heavy, so if your internet connection is marginal, use the previous link for text.




Here’s where. My list gives you a dozen of the best, most reliable places (ports, anchorages, and marina slips) to seek shelter before a Norther starts blowing on the outside of Baja and inside the Sea of Cortez.


Port Captains usually “close” their ports to vessels departing into dangerous storms, but boats can always enter a closed port if they’re seeking shelter – “buscando refugio.” However, after a blow has started, the most comfortable spots might already be filled.


Ensenada: The enclosed yacht basins of Marina Coral and Cruiseport Village Marina are excellent Norther shelters. Some of the docks in boat yards at the north end of Ensenada harbor also give reasonable shelter as an alternative.  

San Quintin: This anchorage along the south side of the 3-mile-long sandspit provides excellent shelter from a Screaming Blue Norther for a couple of dozen vessels.


Turtle Bay: The anchorages on the north and east sides of this nearly circular bay offer the best Norther shelter in many miles; however, the east side may get some refraction waves.


Santa Maria Bay: Anchor well into the north curve of the bay, away from Punta Hughs and nearer to the shallow estuary mouth, or anchor anywhere below the tall hills except directly below the notorious notch.   


Los Cabos: Slips in the interior marinas at both Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo provide good Norther shelter.


La Paz: The enclosed yacht basins at Marina CostaBaja and Marina Palmira are the best Norther shelters in town. At Espiritu Santos Island, Partida Cove has good shelter from Norther seas, but the other choice spot, San Gabriel Bay, is temporarily closed to anchoring.


Puerto Escondido: Slips inside Marina Puerto Escondido’s enclosed back basin offer the most shelter from a Norther along the private residential island. Marina slips closest to shore, and moorings away from the two Windows have been good, too.


Santa Rosalia: The north end of this enclosed harbor provides good anchoring shelter from Screaming Blue Northers, and a slip in the small Marina Santa Rosalia has been good as well if you can get one.


Puerto Don Juan at LA Bay: This small bay in the upper Sea of Cortez has the best N Norther anchoring shelter in many miles, with room for 40 boats if they cooperate.


Puerto Penasco: This whole enclosed harbor has excellent Norther shelter. Due to the extreme tidal variance, the small marinas and fishing docks are usually a better choice than anchoring in the bay.  


San Carlos & Guaymas: Slips in the enclosed yacht basins at Marina Real and Marina San Carlos are best. However, anchoring on the northwest side of Bahia San Carlos usually works if boats are attended. Marina Fonatur Guaymas and the anchorage area at the north end of Guaymas harbor provide good shelter during Northers.


Topolobampo: The anchorage just inside Punta Santa Maria and the downtown basin encircled by Dominguez Street are best. A slip in Marina Topolobampo at the end of the secondary channel is also good shelter from a Screaming Blue Norther.  

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