Cruising untethered in the Sea of Cortez

Cruising is steeped in freedom. Thanks to coronavirus, that makes it more appealing than ever, while at the same time it is more circumscribed than ever. Sailing north and deeper into the Sea of Cortez is to enter a disconnected world, one that feels untouched by pandemic concerns. Limitations on behavior from the mainland stops drifted away. No more everyday decisions to make based personal safety. No more monitoring shifting regulations. No local case count to track. Instead, life unfolded again with a pace and features that represent some of the best of cruising.

Casual gunkholing

We migrated slowly north, enjoying the freedom to roam. At the outset I was trading emails with cruisers who continue to face restrictions on movement or options, while far from home. A sharp contrast, and reminder to be grateful.

The landscapes are stark; the friendships are lush

Free to move about the region, we progressed between open bays, remote coastlines, and uninhabited islands. We got the lines out and were rewarded: it’s dorado (mahi mahi, dolphinfish) season in the Sea, and this sustainable fishery fosters some tasty dinners.

oh, that dorado was tasty…

The company of friends

Cruising can be solitary if you choose, but for many – ourselves included – it’s very social. Keeping company with a handful of boats who shared our practices in managing risk returned that social vibe to the everyday rhythm. Arriving to a new anchorage with a catch, one boat served up sushi bowls – dinner for 10 with the shared bounty.

The most delicious sushi bowl dinner!

Our diverse group includes American, Canadian, Hungarian, South African, and Croatian cruisers; it is the mix of views and experiences and skills to share.  Pablo’s talented illustrator has led regular afternoon classes on drawing with the teens from a couple of boats, bringing discipline and technique to elevate the artwork they love to practice.

The company of friends: priceless

Free to use the beach again, a potluck centered around a driftwood bonfire gathers our little fleet. On a shared grill, dorado steaks join skewers of marinated vegetables; delicious sweet bread dumplings are roasted like damper on a stick for dessert.

As the moon rises, a pack of coyotes – those footprints we followed earlier! – yipped and howled in chorus.

Experiencing wildlife

There’s an intensity to recent wildlife encounters: are there truly greater numbers of many species, or we just seeing them with fresh eyes? Hardly a day passes without a turtle, if not many of them; I’ve joked that mornings on the bow are like watching Turtle TV.

Divot and dried shells from hatchlings mark the location of a turtle’s nest

I don’t think we saw more than a few the entire summer in 2009. We saw more coyotes one week than I think we’ve seen in the entirety of our time (cumulatively, about three and a half years) in Mexico.

a pair of coyotes, dwarfed by middens in the northern Sea

Bahia de los Angeles held a particular lure: this is one of a shortlist of places around the world where whale sharks seasonally loiter. Summertime brings them to feed from the rich waters at estuaries on opposite ends of a 10-mile-long bay.

When we spent the summer here in 2009, we always seemed to be at the wrong end of the bay and never caught more than a distant glimpse – despite their slow pace and significant size (up to 40’). This misfortune followed us literally around the world through a succession of other locales where “everybody” sees the magnificent fish.

Icon from our home waters, symbol on our boat… orcas we finally encountered in Baja

We hoped to finally break that unlucky streak. Foraying to explore by dinghy, our eyes were drawn to splashing and saw…not whale sharks, but the distinctive coloration of orcas. ORCAS! We had similar misses seeing resident pods before sailing away from the Pacific Northwest in 2008; this was the last thing we expected, and an overwhelming delight to the crew. Drifting close to shore, the small pod swam to, and around, and even under us – before departing with a tail slap that showered the crew.

Unforgettable encounter with whale sharks

Wildlife cravings utterly sated, whale sharks or not, we began thinking about our next move. Perhaps no longer feeling pressure that contributed to the change in fortune: investigating ripples in the water while out on the SUP, I found myself next to a whale shark. Hanging near the surface, the giant head bobbed enough to bend the water without breaking it as the fish’s maw yawned to suck and filter plankton. It held station to feed, head up and tail down, the only other movement a rippling along large gills. Slipping into the water to hang alongside and watch it was an experience I can best describe as reverential, and enjoyed in peace for a few moments before joined by our crews in company.

No words to describe the awesome experience of sharing space with this fish

Connecting with people

Bees chased us to a new anchorage; arriving, we remarked on the two fishing pangas anchored below a small cliff. Rumors of poaching and misbehavior from Bay of LA made us wonder about the pangueros activity. Watching one roll out a bedroll above the high tideline, and noticing the improved marker (a plank replacing last year’s driftwood cross) on a rough grave site on shore, it was easy to lead with compassion. Lo, the pan brought over with a cinnamon loaf – hot from the oven! – was miraculously transformed into a pan full of scallops and a lobster tail.

Beautiful shellfish gifted by fishermen in the background

Mortified by prior suspicion, we learned where they were from (the mainland, Sonora), how long they were out (about a week), and shared news of the weather forecast (they had no access, and a norther was coming; we all relocated to another island for better shelter). Once again, those with the least to give humble me with their generosity.

Time to just Be

Our internet break ended this morning with arrival in Puerto Peñasco. We keep up with coaching clients and writing assignments and faraway loved ones through the Iridium GO, but removing the option to “just check the news” has been refreshing!

We’ll draw on that energy in the weeks ahead, as plans are brewing. Projects on Totem: which do we tackle? Shopping run to Arizona: how do we manage it? Gonzo road trip to the Pacific Northwest? Maybe, yes, that too.

With busy days looming, I appreciate anew these joys of cruising.

Sunset beach gathering.

Did you see?

Cruising families in the news! While our crew was off-grid, Totem was featured in articles in the New York Times and Forbes magazine. Thanks to the awesome journalists who helped to share our story. It is really encouraging to see this beautiful life afloat normalized!

Upcoming Events

TOTEM TALKS: The drone shots here are superior for conveying a sense of landscape…to communicate the literally nature of the places we visit. Join us for the next livestream on Oct 17th: Drones and photography underway. Special guest, FAA drone pilot and sailor Vivian Vuong sharing her expertise. Register here, feel free to send questions ahead! A link to replay the session will be sent to registrants.

WOMENS SAILING SEMINAR. Join me for this event empowering women in sailing! I’m speaking on Sunday morning, November 15, and looking forward to joining in as a participant other days.

12 Responses

  1. I got chicken skin and tears in my eyes reading about your encounter with the whale shark! What a magical experience!
    And yes! A gonzo trip to the northwest!
    🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄

    1. I’m not sure I have enough drone experience to call favorites! We have a DJI Phantom, DJI seems to make a good product; Phantom is the larger form factor vs a DJI Mavic. The size has made it easier to land (reach up and grab the handles! it sounds crazy but it’s not) but the compact size of the Mavic is appealing. Our Phantom is from 2016 and we would love to replace it with a Mavic. Just always hard to spend that kind of cash!

  2. Thanks for sharing. We were fortunate to spend the last 4 months cruising here in BC, and enjoyed our own form of self isolation from the pandemic chaos, but alas our season (or the warmth anyway) is coming to an end. Hoping to venture south once we find the right boat.

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