La Paz and Sailing the Sea of Cortez
by Victor Kusske
I’m Vic with wife Linda aboard Sailing Vessel 'Just Dandy' (JD) spending the winter enjoying the weather, working on our boat and exploring the Sea of Cortez.
JD is a 1988 Ericson 32 foot sailboat, she’s rated to sleep six but two is comfortable. She has a galley with a two burner stove and a small oven, a small refrigerator, a toilet or “head” with sink and shower. There is a TV and DVD player in the salon and many books in the rails. She has a VHF receiver and transmitter and an AM-FM radio, GPS, radar, auto pilot and a windlass for pulling up the anchor.
We belong to a sailing club based in La Paz Mexico called 'Club Cruceros'. There are about 500 of us that belong to the club; ten dollars a year dues and boat ownership is not required. We watch out for each other as much as possible. The website is at www.clubcruceros.net and is very extensive.
We 'marineros' are not much different than regular folks. Most of us live on board our boats during the winter months and many of us spend a lot of time in La Paz Bay either at anchor in the bay or tied up in a marina. We like hosting family and friends and often sail JD to Isla del Espirito Santo or Isla del Partida to spend a few nights at anchor in a secluded bay with them.
We love swimming with the whale sharks and snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, hiking, and even just enjoying the sunsets while at anchor over a glass of wine with BBQ steak or fresh caught fish.
We also work maintaining or upgrading our boats because of the caustic marine environment. We choose to have JD pulled out of the water and stored on land, or “on the hard” as a sailor would say, during the summer off season at Bercovich Boat Works.
In the fall, when we return we usually have the boat checked out thoroughly, the hull cleaned and painted below the waterline and then launched. There are a number of boatyards in La Paz with very qualified persons available to assist with any issue that might come up. We found Mr. Abel Bercovich to have fair prices and qualified help available. It costs us about $300 dollars to have JD pulled out and returned to the sea.
We also pay about $300 dollars a month for the time JD spends on the hard.
Launching from Bercovich Boat Works in October, we sailed JD to Marina Palmira where we rented a slip for about $650 dollars per month.
The marina has 186 slips and many amenities that make the stay very pleasant. A heated swimming pool, a cruisers lounge which has fast internet connections, rest rooms with showers, laundry room with washers and dryers, a small store, a shuttle service, a hotel, restaurant and bar. A cruisers' supply store, a marine mechanic shop, secured vehicle parking spaces, a flower shop and an outlet to obtain fishing licenses and other permits.
Sunday at 6 PM is movie night at the pool, free popcorn, bring your own beverage and be prepared to meet other boaters or friends and family of sailors. Some of us exchange what we call boat-cards which have the name of our vessel and our contact information.
The other choice is to anchor out in La Paz Bay. This requires a dinghy to get to and from shore, hauling water and supplies. There is a small fee to anchor in the bay and the fee is about a dollar a day to tie up a dinghy and get water at Marina de La Paz. Boats at anchor in La Paz Bay do what’s called “the La Paz waltz” since the currents move them all in one direction and the wind will move them in another direction looking like a waltz in slow motion. Anchors need to be reset often in these conditions to insure they haven’t pulled loose.
There are some very good restaurants in La Paz. “Mesquite Grill” for grilled steaks and hamburgers, “El Rustico” for Italian, “Loco for Pasta” for Italian, “J B Ribs” for excellent BBQ ribs, “La Pearla Restaurant” on the malecon, “Sortis Restaurant”, the local “Economicos” with 70 peso lunches and so many more yet to be discovered.
We like visiting the City Market and the various markets on different days of the week. We shop for groceries at Soriana, Chedraui, Aramburo or WalMart and many of us cook most of our meals onboard in our galleys. Some of us are pretty good cooks considering the small spaces in which we create our meals. La Paz is a family friendly city as evidenced by the numerous, nicely maintained parks with playground equipment, the relaxed nature of the 3 mile long malecon, almost no beach hawkers or timeshare salespeople and a feeling of safety.
Our Lady of Peace Cathedral consecrated August 15, 1843, the oldest downtown building, deserves a visit if not Mass at 10 AM on Sundays. Don’t miss the pastries, drinks and candies for sale by the Sisters associated with the cathedral in the courtyard after services. We love the Mexican people and their “mi casa es su casa” attitude and try to be good ambassadors representing our respective homelands, treating others with dignity and respect. We enjoy the mild spring-like winter weather and exploring the numerous fishing villages and deserted bays in the Sea of Cortez.
Author John Steinbeck visited the Sea of Cortez in 1940 and wrote a book about his trip and 47 years later Jacques Cousteau visited and declared the Sea of Cortez to be, “the world’s aquarium.” If you would like to get a closer look at our boating community we suggest you come to La Paz and spend a little time checking things out. You can get here by renting a car or catching the BajaEcoTours bus from Cabo Airport to the malecon in La Paz for $45 dollars one way. Rooms on or near the malecon are inexpensive, in the $70 dollar a night range.
Come to the Dock Café adjacent to Marina de La Paz (3040 Topete La Paz, BCS) and near La Paz Yachts and Club Cruceros Clubhouse and patio. Take a window seat in the Dock Café and watch the sailors in their dinghy’s coming and going to their boats anchored in the La Paz Bay while you have breakfast. Look at the boats for sale in the window of the La Paz Yachts office just across the lot from The Dock Cafe. Stop in at the office and say hello to Cindy and Tom and feel free to ask any questions you might have. Every Saturday and weekday morning at 8 AM you can listen to the Club Cruceros net broadcast from the VHF radio installed on the outside of the clubhouse wall on the patio.
The clubhouse is located in the southwest corner of the Marina de La Paz facility. Feel free to turn the radio on to channel 22 if someone hasn’t already done so to listen to the 8 AM net. Also feel free to transmit any question you may have to the listening fleet. Radio protocol procedures are posted next to the microphone. You can expect an immediate answer from someone to almost any question you may have.
As an example recently, a lady was asking where she might find SodaStream carbonator cartridges in La Paz as she could not find them anywhere. She immediately got two responses for two different stores that carry them.
Then at 9.30 AM coffee will be served for ten pesos a cup on the clubhouse patio. Grab a cookie and take a seat at one of the tables and chit chat with the people there. You will find many from the US and Canada but also a few from Europe and other countries. We met a gentleman recently who sailed alone from Ireland and later we met a couple from New Zealand.
The gentleman we met from Ireland sailed across the Atlantic Ocean through the Caribbean to Panama and through the Panama Canal and north to the Sea of Cortez. His plan was to sail north to Alaska the last time we spoke with him. Most love to talk about where they’ve been and where they hope to go. Check out the notices on the bulletin board where sailors are looking for crew or crew looking for boats. You might find a skipper willing to give you a couple lessons before you sail to Mazatlán, San Carlos, Puerto Vallarta or other places if you want to crew.
It is not uncommon for people to catch a sailboat ride to the Mexican mainland by helping the skipper make the trip. Duties working as a crewmember are usually spelled out in some detail and include standing watch, along with other everyday chores like cooking and cleaning. Most boats are equipped with autopilots so standing watch may only consist of making sure the heading is maintained, the wind direction hasn’t changed and there are no hazards, like other vessels, showing.
In a couple days and nights you could be exploring Mazatlán and later return to La Paz via the Baja Ferry. Space aboard most boats is limited so hard sided luggage is not a sailor’s first choice since soft sided bags can be rolled up and stowed away in a small space.
Some sailors have some strange superstitions that they may not want to admit. So if the skipper has a funny look on his or her face as you plop down a bunch of bananas in the galley it would be best if you removed the bananas and anything associated with bananas to the shore or the deep six.
Whistling is also frowned upon by some. Why are many sailors superstitious? I may do a follow up on that question but for now, no hard sided luggage or whistling please, and definitely no bananas.
We plan on sailing 'Just Dandy' north soon to Puerto Escondido, which is just south of Loreto, and doing some exploring in that area. John Steinbeck in The Log from the Sea of Cortez visited some of the bays we will be stopping at and we are looking forward to comparing his 1940 descriptions to what we see today. Please accept our best wishes from 'Just Dandy' and the fleet, may you have fair winds and following seas during your travels.
Vic Kusske, Captain
SV 'Just Dandy'