Wednesday January 8 – Friday January 17, 2020
Sister Wendy and brother in-law Robert Bitner (aka the “Bits”) joined Estelle for a week. The visit started in-town for a few days due to a “big wind” event. Winds were in the mid-to-high 20’s but from the north with a 600 mile fetch down the Sea of Cortez. El Capitán commented, “think Lake Michigan on steroids”. It definitely would have been a wet ride to the islands.
We took advantage of our mainland time by taking a Spanish Language lesson in town, visiting the “locals” beach – Playa Balandra, watching a playoff game (Go 9ers!) from an outdoor beach bar, and took many a free shuttle ride from Marina Costa Baja into town to walk the malecón, go out to eat, and shop.
We finally left harbor on Sunday, January 12, with plans to visit the islands just north of the La Paz peninsula. It was a day of mostly motoring. The winds have been all or nothing in La Paz lately. We dropped anchor Sunday night in Ensenada el Cardonal on Isla Partida. (We skipped Isla Espiritu Santos, a National Park immediately North of the La Paz peninsula, in order to have time to visit Isla San Francisco.)
Ensenada el Cardonal is a lovely peaceful anchorage. This is a long bay, that practically cuts Isla Partida in two. It shoals for the last quarter of the bay—so we anchored a ways from shore in about 25 feet of water. The water is turquoise and very clear over a white sand bottom–gorgeous. While we had a few boat neighbors at night, they all left early the next day and we then had this beautiful bay to ourselves.
Exploring in the dinghy Monday morning, we rounded the corner to the next bay north, Los Cuevitas, hoping to find blue-footed boobies. But it was a booby bust. No boobies in the rookery yet (purported to be found among the small caves in the cliff face.) If anyone knows what season the boobies are most likely to be found in Los Cuevitas, please let us know!
Back at Ensenada de Cardonal, we took the dinghy ashore and readily found the hiking trail which took us around the mangrove lagoon to the eastern shore of the island. As we forded the small stream of water flowing from the lagoon to the beach, hundreds of quarter-size fiddler crabs scrambled out of our way. These little guys are easily recognized by their single disproportionately large claw that rests across their small bodies. Rounding the lagoon, we found it filled with herons – blue, white and red. A short desert hike beyond the lagoon soon found us on the eastern-most rocky shore of the island with a gorgeous view overlooking the Sea of Cortez.
Tuesday we headed up the Canal de San José to Isla San Francisco. While the hook-shaped bay on the southern end of Isla San Francisco is a popular anchorage due to its natural beauty and good protection, it has a reputation for being miserable if the no see um’s (tiny biting gnats) and mosquitos are out. We lucked out! While we encountered some mosquitoes on the more heavily vegetated parts of our onshore hikes in the islands, we had no problem with biting insects at anchor on Estelle.
Isla San Francisco is picture postcard gorgeous: clear turquoise waters, white sand beaches, and a view of the spectacular Sierra de la Giganta mountain range across Canal de San José on the mainland. We were astounded by the beauty. Who knew Baja was this gorgeous? Views from the ridge trail on the south “hook” of the bay were fantastic. We anchored in about 20 feet of water hugging the north side of the bay to avoid the wind funneling across the low-lying part of the island. Anchorage was once again a perfect sand bottom. Easy Peasy.
Our travels in the Sea of Cortez have coincided with the end of a ten-year drought during which average rainfall was only 3 inches per year! In sharp contrast, last year Baja got a whopping 17 inches of rain and as a result we found the islands remarkably green for a desert climate, with wild flowers every where we looked.
Wednesday took us back to the south end of Isla Partida to the well protected and popular Caleta Partida anchorage. We anchored in shallower-than-usual water–about 15 feet. It shoals up quickly in this bay! Extremely shallow beach approaches starting a long way out made taking the dinghy to shore tricky but we headed in with the high-ish tide and approached the northern beach from the far west side, getting the outboard to shore safely. Bonus: on the dinghy-ride to the beach we saw a few rays and puffer fish in the clear water!
We encountered the largest number of mosquitoes of our cruise onshore in Caleta Partida as we tried unsuccessfully, despite a few cairns, to find the hiking trail indicated on the cruiser’s guide chart. Still a beautiful view greeted us part way up the dry arroyo which we ended up following inland. As long as we kept moving the mosquitoes weren’t bad.
Thursday we headed back to La Paz in order to get Wendy and Rob off to the airport on Friday morning. What a memorable short cruise to the islands! We miss our sailing/hiking/bridge-playing buddies already and look forward to another visit from the Bits. Maybe further north next time?
Bitner Cruise Smileys and Frowns
- La Mar y Peña Restaurante, La Paz, for the seafood platter for four (we couldn’t finish it!)
- Sorstis Restaurante, La Paz, for an Italian dinner splurge in a beautiful outdoor courtyard near the cathedral (after the Bits left we discovered they have a fantastic Sunday brunch–muy bueno!)
- Playa Balandra – excellent beach north of La Paz on the peninsula (we recommend the fresh donuts) Easy access on the Playa Bús
- Gorgeous and easy anchorages with good north wind protection on Isla Partida and Isla San Francisco- clear turquoise water over sand bottoms
- The ridge hike on Isla San Francisco – breathtaking!
- The Sierra de la Giganta mountain range opposite Isla San Francisco – stunning!
- Mosquitoes and no see um’s – lucked out: not bad
- We loved the contrasting colors of the volcanic red rock of the islands, the clear turquoise waters in the bays, the white sand beaches, and surprising lushness of the vegetation ashore
- Perfect sun-shiney, but not-too-hot hiking weather
- Good hiking on Isla Partida in Ensenada de Cardonal and on Isla San Francisco
- Puffer fish and rays sighted while coming ashore in Caleta Partida
- Good kayaking at all three anchorages
- Too much motoring, not enough sailing! The local wind pattern around La Paz seems to be all or nothing
- Shallow beach landing (for a long way) in Caleta Partida – we couldn’t get ashore except at high tide in the dinghy or on the kayak; hiking very limited
- Wimpy Frown: water temps in the low 70’s, making it a little cool for the light-weight sailor (LWS) to swim (and who, admittedly, was too lazy to dig her wet suit out from beneath the v-berth).