Boaters spending the summer in Mexico should check out my four favorite hurricane hideouts in the upper Sea of Cortez.
Summertime and the living is easy. But it’s past mid-July, so recreational boaters in the Sea of Cortez right now should have solid plans about where they’ll spend the peak months of this hurricane season — August, September, October — in safety and comfort.
For example, boat owners anywhere in the lower and mid-latitudes of the Sea of Cortez should already have slip reservations in at least one of the hurricane-refuge marinas at La Paz or Puerto Escondido in Baja California Sur, or at San Carlos in Sonora. Otherwise, anyone still in La Paz should be cruising north to at least Puerto Escondido, which is another very popular hurricane hole. Boaters not summering over in the marina there should plan to continue past Santa Rosalia (not a hurricane hole) to reach summer safety farther north.
Mazatlan on the mainland side of the Sea of Cortez probably shouldn’t be considered a hurricane hole, due to the frequency of cyclonic storms that curve off the Pacific and slam into this coast between 22 and 24 degrees north. Most years, boaters berthed in the popular marinas tucked back into Sabalo Lagoon have reported no problem, but it’s “luck of the draw,” and even those marinas usually are booked full by now.
Otherwise, some folks at Mazatlan might head north to the San Carlos area, which has two hurricane-hole marinas and dry storage yards.
Why the Upper Sea of Cortez?
The lower and mid-latitudes of the Sea of Cortez are vulnerable to tropical-storm winds and torrential rains that flood coastal areas, so folks not already hunkered down in one of those hurricane holes should head to the upper third of the Sea of Cortez, north of a line between Santa Rosalia and Guaymas. Very few hurricanes can travel up the narrow north-south length of the Sea of Cortez, nor can they jump over the Baja California peninsula and reform with sufficient strength to travel north again.
Having summered over here 10 times on several different boats, I’ve created a list of four favorite places to hide out during hurricane season in the upper Sea of Cortez. Each is near a hurricane hole, should the need arise to scoot there quickly. They have access to provisions, fuel, and a few diversionary side trips for the stretches when a hurricane isn’t threatening.
1. San Francisquito is a gorgeous multiple- anchorage destination 75 nautical miles up the Baja coast from Santa Rosalia. The main bay is large, and three small adjacent coves provide fun dinghy expeditions; all four provide rare protection from summer southerlies and are graced by crystal turquoise waters and white sand bottoms. A 1-mile outer beach roadstead is good in north wind. All this is within a 3-mile radius.
A dirt airstrip (1,200 yards) gets an occasional fly-in fishing group, and two rustic campgrounds on the south beach may have limited gasoline and water. San Francisquito enjoys the solitude of lying 60 unpaved miles from Baja Highway 1, but it’s a popular stepping stone for all boats crossing the Sea of Cortez via the Midriff Islands, which are within sight. The nearest hurricane hole is 53 miles northwest at Puerto Don Juan, near L.A. Bay.
2. Puerto Refugio, or Port of Refuge, is not a port; it’s a picturesque sheltered bay that spreads two and a half miles across the north tip of Guardian Angel Island, an uninhabited behemoth. Tucked inside like a cluster of jewels in a purse are nine pristine anchoring areas that provide swinging room for about 20 boats total. The anchoring areas are nestled between four little islands, two fun diving reefs and two low peninsulas that slope down from the island’s rugged 3,000-foot peak.
Supplies can be found 35 miles south at Bahia de los Angeles, better known as L.A. Bay, which offers diesel, gas, groceries, restaurants, a hospital, an airport and 20 modest hotels that serve trailerboating fishermen who truck here from Highway 1. About 50 small anchoring spots lie between Refugio and L.A. Bay.
Five miles east of L.A. Bay is the nearest hurricane hole, Puerto Don Juan. Again, it’s really not a port but rather a small uninhabited bay with a dog-leg entrance, but it does have room for 40 boats to swing comfortably and is nearly impregnable to storm winds and seas from all directions.
3. Puerto Penasco, Sonora, in the northeast corner of the Sea of Cortez, is an actual port, finally, and is the safest hurricane hole in Mexico due to its latitude and geography. This town of 27,000 people boasts three small marinas, two fuel docks with diesel and gas, seven haulout yards, good provisioning, hospitals, chandlers, an international airport, air-conditioned movie theaters, and scads of restaurants that feature the region’s mainstay: shrimp.
The U.S. border is only 65 miles north, so hundreds of gringos find it practical to keep their boat here over the summer while they scoot home. I counted only 50 yacht slips, and they fill up fast. But because the tidal range is extreme this far north (23 feet max at springs), the enclosed commercial port actually shrinks at low tide, providing almost no room for moorings or anchoring.
The best plan is to store boats safely on the hard. Cabrales Boatyard in the harbor’s northwest corner specializes in yachts, uses 150-ton Travelifts with padded straps and coordinates with international boat movers to truck yachts up to the U.S., or down.
4. Bahia Sargento (“sar-HEN-tow”) is a pristine 3-mile-wide turquoise bay between two sparkling white sand spits. Sargento lies within the indigenous Seri tribal reservation, so it’s all sacred land, including Tiburon Island, where the Seri people believe their spirits live. No one can fish or explore ashore without a Seri guide, easily hired on VHF Channel 16 in Kino Bay or Chuenque.
Enter Sargento Bay from the northwest, swing wide of the little reef off Punta Sargento and anchor off the northern beach in 15 to 18 feet of clear water. In the shallow tidal lagoon behind this beach it’s possible to watch Seri families set handmade fishing nets.
Distinguished by their native dress (traje), the Seri often camp ashore here. But unlike typical Mexican pangueros, they seldom initiate contact with outsiders, except during their annual Sea Turtle Ceremony.