Summer Getaways

It's possible to enjoy mini-cruises in the Sea of Cortez while staying close to a hurricane hole.

As summer deepens, boaters in Mexico are shaping up their itineraries. Those who are going to park their boat in one of the comfortable “hurricane hole” marinas for the summer (and stay aboard) will find it easy to join the marina scene, thanks to ample swimming pools, air-conditioned eateries and cruiser events from August to November.

In the Sea of Cortez, the most popular hurricane hole marinas are found at La Paz, Puerto Escondido, Puerto Penasco, San Carlos and Guaymas. Depending on a boat’s capabilities, and if weather forecasts predict a big enough weather window, it is possible to hop quickly between these marinas. Just be sure the marina has available slips. The really popular hurricane hole marinas sometimes fill up in late summer.

Yes, summering over in Mexico’s marinas is pretty nice. But to break the boredom, yatistas might consider exploring one or more remote anchorages — either as a multiday stop while en route to their next safety zone or as a loop out and back to their primary hurricane hole marina.

1: Gato & Toro
Located 75 miles north of La Paz and 37 miles south of Puerto Escondido, the double cove of Gato & Toro at the foot of the dramatic Sierra La Giganta is less than a mile wide and difficult to spot from offshore. Isla Santa Cruz is 11 miles offshore. My GPS approach position (25 degrees 18 minutes north, 110 degrees 56 minutes west) is just a quarter of a mile outside the middle of Gato and Toro.

The cove at Gato & Toro (also called Puerto Los Gatos) is like a water park just for visiting boaters and is remarkable for its spectacular geological scenery. Sandstone formations colored from pink to oxblood red seem to ooze horizontally and form a vast shoreline shelf in the north end, inviting climbing and diving. Gato cove was named by locals for a family of wild puma that used to inhabit a cave found on a 2-mile hike up the narrow northwest arroyo. Punta Cantil Colorado (Red Cliffs) at the north end of Gato cove provides good anchoring shelter in moderate north winds.

In the south end, El Toro Reef is a colonnade of black lava pillars that forms a small stepping-stone reef that stays just under the surface in all but the lowest tides — a fun place to snorkel. In moderate south winds, boats find shelter along the north face of Punta Botella, and a small shallow-draft boat might tuck behind El Toro Reef on a calm night.

2: Found Coast
The largest and most popular hurricane hole marina area in the Sea of Cortez is San Carlos–Guaymas, two adjacent ports on the Sonora side. Several thousand yachts safely summer over here each year, either in a marina slip or hauled out, and boaters can either stay aboard (immersed in the gringo yatista scene) or fly home.

San Carlos has two large, well-established marinas that are landlocked in sheltered basins and two dry storage yards that are safely inland, away from storm waves. Guaymas harbor offers several boatyards and dry storage facilities on its protected south shores (though the Guaymas Fonatur marina in the harbor’s north end was damaged).

Near San Carlos–Guaymas, the Found Coast, rather than a single location, is the 35-mile coastline running north from San Carlos to Estero Tastiota. I suggest boaters zoom up to Tastiota and slowly gunkhole south, keeping an eye on the summer weather.

I have charted 27 unique and separate anchoring coves evenly spread along this deeply serrated coast. Cruisers can explore at their leisure and anchor overnight in a different spot each night. What a treat for lazy adventurers.

Most of the Found Coast’s 27 getaway anchorages have only a four-wheel-drive track or a dirt road leading in, while others are accessible only to boats, so the pristine Sonora Desert scenery is preserved. Cruisers may see a half dozen fellow yatistas (power and sail) who are also luxuriating in the peace and tranquility of the Found Coast — with their VHF radios turned off.

If being the only humans in sight is nerve-wracking, cruisers can spend a few days in the two biggest anchorages: Bahia Colorado and Bahia San Pedro. Both have villages of vacation homes, panga haulout beaches, grocery stores and a paved road out to civilization.

3: La Salina Bay
When the crowds get too thick inside Puerto Escondido’s hurricane hole marinas and adjacent anchorages, my favorite getaway is La Salina Bay on the east or far side of Isla Carmen. It’s 22 miles from Puerto Escondido out to La Salina by way of Punta Baja on the island’s south tip. Or from Loreto, La Salina is about 30 miles via Isla Carmen’s north tip.

“We come out here for a week every once in a while,” said Pete and Jeannie Steffano on their 48-foot motoryacht. Summer heat can get stifling inside Puerto Escondido’s landlocked bay, so the Steffanos came out to La Salina for more breeze. “We love to walk the big main beach every day. Along the walk east [toward Punta Perico] we’ve found several little reefs that are pristine and fun to snorkel. We have explored the ghost town and hiked the trail past the salt pond, and we fish right off our boat at anchor.”

La Salina is a commodious 2-mile-wide bay backed by a pleasant 1¾-mile crescent beach, and in front are a collapsed pier and a real ghost town. Formerly, natural salt evaporation ponds were worked by a community of 100 families who lived here. Bags of salt were loaded on cargo ships at the pier, but it was all abandoned in 1982. Caretakers guard La Salina’s tiny church, empty homes and ruined machinery — still private property. Call ahead on VHF Channel 16 for permission to explore the ghost town.

A hunting lodge southwest of the ghost town seasonally accommodates hired hunters during 10-day hunts to thin the imported herd of desert big horn sheep. Well off from the stub of La Salina’s old pier, divers can explore two wrecks, but visitors should stay off the pier itself and not snorkel beneath it, because it’s still collapsing.

La Salina is open to the south and east, so if a south swell begins rolling in, go around the north side of the island and switch to Dos Parillas or V-Cove or Puerto de la Lancha. Or head back to the summer safety of Puerto Escondido.

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