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South-Wind Shelters around the Sea of Cortez

Early July is a good time for Mexico cruisers to pick out a string of anchorages that provide overnight shelter in south-wind conditions. Why? Because, as a rule of thumb, summer in the Sea of Cortez either brings zero wind (Sailors have to motor a lot.) or boaters get wind from the south or southwest.

Due to the 575 n.m. length of the Sea of Cortez, winds tend to parallel the mountainous spine of the Baja Peninsula, and in summer those winds usually flow from the southeast toward the northwest. Below are 46 of my favorite summer cruising anchorages.

But first, here are three summer exceptions to be aware of.

ELEFANTES

In early summer, one exception to the south-wind rule of thumb is the infamous Elefante. It starts as a finger of cold northwest wind off the Pacific Ocean squeezes through any one of several low gaps in Baja’s mountains.

Then, surprise! That finger blasts down onto the coastal waters of the northern Sea of Cortez and fans out. Elefantes have been known to suddenly smack down unsuspecting sailboats traveling as far as 10 miles offshore, hitting them with a gale-force blast from the west. The only tell-tale is a horizontal tubular cloud (an elephant trunk) up in the mountain gap, which is invisible at night. (See photo.) Two popular cruising grounds, Bahia de Los Angeles, and Gonzaga Bay, are notorious for these unpredictable Elefante blasts.

CORUMUELS

Corumuel winds are a similarly localized exception to the summer southerly rule of thumb, this time created when excessive heat in the lower Sea of Cortez actually sucks cooler Pacific wind up over a low spot in the Baja Peninsula. Corumuels are received as a blessing when they cool the breathless, sun-baked anchorages around La Paz. They usually range from five to 12 knots.

CHUBASCOS

By mid to late summer, a different south-wind exception can affect boaters cruising both sides of the mid and lower Sea of Cortez. On the mainland, the taller Sierra Madre Occidentales (10,863’) of southern Sonora and Sinaloa generate daytime thunderstorms, sometimes violent ones. By evening, those active storm cells roll west down the foothills, plow across the low coastal planes then blast out onto the Sea of Cortez.

Cruisers in certain south-wind anchorages that normally promise a tranquil night might be in for a nasty surprise. Peels of thunder from the east are the first audible warnings that a Chubasco has formed, then lightning crackles across the twilight sky. Suddenly, 30-knot winds from the east whip the anchorage into froth, followed by a thunderous downpour that can last an hour. Big Chubascos can travel west all the way across the Sea of Cortez. For example, Agua Verde is vulnerable to Chubascos from the mainland.

SOUTH-WIND SHELTERS

 

OK, let’s look at 46 of my favorite summer cruising (south breeze) anchorages around the Sea of Cortez, from Baja Sur up and around to Banderas Bay.

  1. Buena Vista and Los Barriles, the fishing resorts in Bahia las Palmas.
  2. Punta de la Ventana, just around the lighted point from Muertos cove.
  3. Balandra, Caleta Lobos, Gaviota, False Bay, Playa Erindira, El Mogote: all on the way into La Paz.
  4. Espiritu Santos Island: all bays on the west side except Bahia San Gabriel. (See 2 photos, Partida.)
  5. Isla San Francisco: north end of the island or southeast corner of The Hook.
  6. Isla San Jose’s Amortajada Lagoon: north of the estuary and inside the lagoon.
  7. San Evaristo: Either end of Village Bay and north of Playa Estanques.
  8. Gato and Toro: above Punta Botella, behind El Toro Reef or off El Gato sandstone ledge.
  9. Playa San Telmo.
  10. Agua Verde region: Bahia Juanaloa, six spots inside Bahia Agua Verde.
  11. Playa Caleta San Cosme.
  12. Candeleros Cove and Mano de Dios or Candeleros Chico.
  13. Ensenada Blanca: off Villa de Palmar resort beach.
  14. Isla Danzante: Divorce Cove, Honeymoon Cove.
  15. Puerto Escondido: the Waiting Room and the Eclipse.
  16. Carmen Island: Bahia Cobre, Puerto la Lancha, Puerto Ballandra.
  17. Isla Coronado: north of the sand spit.
  18. San Juanico Cove and Ramada Cove.
  19. Bahia San Nicolas: west of Punta San Antonio or Caleta San Sebastian.
  20. Bahia Concepcion: Santispac, Concepcion, Burro, Coyote, Santa Barbara, Buenaventura.
  21. Punta Chivato: north side El Muerto.
  22. Isla San Marcos: Trinity Cove and Arcos on north side.
  23. Santa Rosalia: north end of harbor.
  24. Punta Trinidad: west of the point.
  25. San Francisquito, Caleta Ninos, Caleta Mujeres.
  26. Las Animas Bay: 11 south-wind anchorages.
  27. Ensenada Quemado: southeast corner.
  28. Puerto Don Juan: hurricane hole.
  29. A. Bay region: between Islas Ventana & Flecha & Bota & Pata, also between Islas Mitlan and Smith. (See photo.)
  30. Guardian Angel Island: Puerto Refugio (seven spots) and Estanque.
  31. Bahia Remedios: Alcatraz Cove.
  32. Gonzaga & Willard Bays: Punta Final, Cinco Pesos, Fernandez Camp.
  33. San Felipe: inside marina basin, outer corners.
  34. Puerto Penasco: harbor anchorage.
  35. Isla San Jorge: northeast crescent anchorage.
  36. Isla Tiburon region: Bahia Sargento, Agua Dulce, (See photo & chart.) also Punta Willard, Dogs Bay.
  37. Kino Bay: north of Whale Bone Point.
  38. San Carlos region: Algadones, Martini, Bahia San Carlos, Bacochibampo.
  39. Guaymas harbor: Las Playitas and north side of harbor off the Malecon.
  40. Topolobampo: Santa Maria Cove, Bahia Ohuira.
  41. Bahia Altata: off Puerto Altata village.
  42. Mazatlan region: Isla Venado southeast side, inside Marina District estuary, Old Port municipal anchorage, Bahia Uria past the SENI boat yard.
  43. Isla Isabela: Las Monas.
  44. San Blas: Rio Pozo off the marina.
  45. Guayabitos: Los Ayala and Rincon de Guayabitos.
  46. Banderas Bay: Tomatlan, Las Animas, Quimixto, Yelapa, Caleta Corrales.

SOUTHERN SEA OF CORTEZ

Rather than repeat standard stops on the well-beaten gringo trail, let’s look at a few lesser-known gems that may prove useful to you in surprise south winds.

7.) La Ventana: Curving around East Cape, Punta Arena de la Ventana lies due south of Isla Cerralvo, and its western flank is a 3-mile powdered sugar beach. We anchor half a mile west of the landmark lighthouse.

8.) Rincon Bay: Ten miles up the Baja coast from San Evaristo Bay is the wide and uninhabited Bahia Rincon, excellent shelter in south wind behind the bulbous Burro Point. Rincon refers to an inside corner, and you’ll see why, yet this anchorage has views across the channel to the north end of giant Isla San Jose.

9.) Isla Carmen off Loreto: Puerto de la Lancha on the north side of Carmen Island provides roomier shelter than the tiny south shelf in more popular Bahia Balandra. A trail leads across the island to the ghost town of La Salina.

10.) Playa Santa Barbara: Coyote Bay in Bahia Concepcion has lots of beaches rife with RVs and jet skis. But Playa Santa Barbara is a pristine turquoise gem with 100% south wind shelter and no road in; developers dropped plans to build a hotel here.

11.) Trinity Coves on the northwest facade of Isla San Marcos are safer in south winds than Sweet Pea shelf, and Trinity has sea caves and snorkeling reefs for entertainment if you get pinned down during a long Southern. From Trinity Coves, you have a great view up to the harbor breakwaters at Santa Rosalia.

UPPER SEA OF CORTEZ

By late October, boaters who summered over in this region’s well known hurricane holes (San Carlos, Guaymas, L.A. Bay, San Felipe, Puerto Peñasco) have developed a serious case of cabin fever and are now eager to move on.

12.) Punta Trinidad: At 37 miles up the coast from Santa Rosalia, this is red headland is good radar target and a small but handy refuge if you’re caught along this 70-mile stretch between Santa Rosalia and San Francisquito. Anchor off the village beach northwest of Punta Trinidad.

13.) Although more remote, tiny Las Animas Slot has better south shelter than the larger and better-known Bahia Las Animas five miles southwest of the slot.

14.) In the L.A. Bay region, the three best spots are Puerto Don Juan, Puerto Remedios farther north, and Isla Mitlan off cone shaped Smith Island. On Guardian Angel Island, three anchorages with south wind shelter are spread along the island’s remote east side are Isla Estanque, Caleta Pulpito and Puerto Refugio.

15.) Gonzaga Bay’s south end has good shelter two miles southwest of Punta Final’s landmark northern tip (Snoopy Rock); then we tuck into the fjord-like canyons to port. Avoid the broad wind-swept beaches west of Punta Final camping village.

16.) Punta Bufeo six miles up from lighted Willard Bay has a good anchorage and small village close west of the headland. If rain accompanies the southerly conditions, avoid the flash-flood prone beaches northwest of Punta Bufeo. Also, avoid the delta shoal that juts two miles southwest from the southwest corner of Isla San Luis; it breaks at low tides and in strong winds.

If you mark your charts with an “S” symbol near these 16 anchorages that provide south wind shelter, you’ll have more options handy, no matter what time of year you are cruising Mexico

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