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Friday, May 14, 2010

Boca De Soledad and Bahia Magdalena, Baja Mexico

May 13, 2010 8:00PM MST
Day 1718
Position: 25°52'N 112°38'W
Underway toward Bahia Tortuga from Boca De Soledad (North end of Magdalena Bay)
Miles YTD: 4221
Miles since day 1: 30,445


Over the last five days we found an unexpected adventure in the sixty miles of pristine bays and inland waterways that connects Bahia Magdalena with Boca De Soledad. Adverse weather had us pinned down so we set off to explore the inland waterway North of Bahia Magdalena (Mag Bay). With extremely guarded optimism we hoped to not only embark on a great adventure, but also make some distance good toward our destination by 'hopefully' sneaking back out into the ocean at Boca De Soledad. Our guide books gave little mention to transiting the inland waterway so we undertook an extensive 'Google' search on the topic and found very very little. Google 'Earth' however can be a powerful tool to better understand poorly charted areas, so again taking advantage of our internet access we 'cached' lots of images. As it turned out Google 'Earth' was indispensable in selecting the correct waterway to follow at the many intersections and island filled bays and also in avoiding shoal (super shallow) areas as even these are visible on many of the Google 'Earth' images. As an added bonus our slightly modified Telcel 3G internet device worked the entire way so for areas we had not fully 'cached' the images we could further refine the picture.

After a night anchored at Man-o-War cove we made our way North initially using the buoy'd ships channel toward San Carlos. Surprisingly, the buoys were pretty much as charted and water depth generous in the channel. The adventure really began when we departed the channel and proceeded North. For those who might endeavor to try the same trip be forewarned that this is a very tricky passage and the sometimes murky water is very difficult to 'read' depth wise. We chose to set out on a rising tide so that inadvertent groundlings would quickly be remedied by floating off shoals on the rising tide if engine power was insufficient to back off. Fortunately, our catamaran can sneak around in only 2'-8", but even so we had some close calls ghosting along in 3' of water at times trying to find the deeper channel. We anchored off a scenic ever shifting sand dune and small mangrove at a bend in the waterway that afforded protection from the prevailing NW winds and substantial wind chop with 25 knot winds. Anchorage position: 24°52.0781' N 112°10.9715' W in about 5 meters of water with excellent holding.

Our next day took us through the passage called 'Devils Elbow' and we managed to briefly become grounded on a mid-channel sand bar and had to back track a bit to find a way around the shoal. Through trial and error we came up with a general rule that the water was deeper on the outside bends of the waterway... much like a river. Just North of 'Devils Elbow' an expansive lagoon is riddled with shoal areas so we were fortunate to find some makeshift channel markers to guide us thorough this treacherous area. Our next anchorage was accessed via a 1 nm long parallel and dead end side channel at the base of a huge set of sand dunes. One of our favorite anchorages of all time with the shimmering golden sands ever shifting in the strong wind and a flat calm anchorage at: 25°05.7718' N 112°09.9261' W. We stayed for two nights and had several friendly and curious local fishing pangas stop by for a chat. One panga with four young pre-teen boys were out on a clam gathering trip and offered us some delicious clams. One of the boys opened a clam on the spot discarded the guts and scooped out the abductor muscle for our immediate consumption. Quite delicious. The remaining clams we lightly steamed. As a small gift we gave each of the boys a pair of swimming goggles as apparently they were collecting the clams by feel so we expect the goggles will be of great utility. From here we set out on our foray to the beach to find all the dead turtles and sea mammals (see older post for the full story).

We vacillated back and forth about continuing North toward Boca de Soledad or turning back to San Carlos for fuel and departing the way we had arrived to Bahia Magdalena. The issues were many. 1). Would the strong winds offshore have Boca de Soledad impassable. 2). Could fuel be obtained in Puerto San Mateos (town nearest the Boca)... if not then we would need to turn back anyway as we were short on our safety factor for fuel. 3) Was the passage through Boca de Soledad even possible in settled conditions. 4). Could we find a knowledgeable local guide to pilot us through Boca de Soledad or would we feel uncomfortable with the whole situation. 5). A favorable weather window was approaching putting a little timing pressure on top of everything else.

We decided to finish our exportation of the inland waterway at least North to the the pueblo of Puerto San Mateo, a sleepy fishing village and bustling whale watching center in season. Getting the anchor down at: 25°11.6659'N 112°07.9213'W we jumped in the dinghy and headed to a fish processing pier where two fairly big boats were tied to the pier. Seemed like a likely place to find both the diesel and 'local' information about the ocean pass at Boca de Soledad. We tied up to one of the 60' fishing boats and the helpful mechanics whom were working on the boat helped us aboard and onto the pier where we made a few phone calls from the guard shack to enquire about diesel. No luck on buying some here and we were directed to the adjoining pueblo (town) of Puerto San Mateos. Back to the dinghy we went into a side estuary and tied up at the town dock. On shore we ran into our young friends from the day before whom gave us the clams and they put us in contact with their uncle 'Angel' whom was eager to help us out. But first a few pangas had to be hauled out of the water and delivered to local homes for storage. I helped move a few of the boats with the most rickety trailer and tired old Nissan pickup whose rear bumper seemed only minutes from falling off from the abuse of hauling the boats around.

Our new friends Angel and Daniel took us to the nearest pueblo with a diesel filling station on the agreement that we would pay for gas for their car and offer a small propina (tip) for the service. It turns out the Pueblo was about 40 kilometers away and we secured the fuel without incident. Unfortunately, the only ATM machine in town was not working so we negotiated to extend the trip to the next pueblo another 20 kilometers further where we found success with a Banamex ATM machine. Back on the road we had to make a few social stops at friends homes and then back to the dinghy just after sunset. We locked the diesel jugs in the dinghy and walked back into the center of Puerto San Mateo for some super tacos.

We awoke this morning to thick marine layer fog that started to clear around 9AM so we raised anchor to head towards Boca de Soledad and re-anchor their to evaluate the pass. Luck was shinning on us as just before we launched our dinghy to check out the pass a local fishing guide with guests aboard pulled along side LightSpeed. Ruben Duran was really helpful and offered to run us out through the Boca in his panga while we recorded the correct route with our hand held Garmin GPS. It was super helpful to use Rubens boat as he had a depth sounder onboard that we would have lacked in a exploration in our dinghy alone.

The pass did not look as good as I had hoped. There was no clear flat water only places where the waves were not constantly breaking. Ruben showed me the two available passes and assured me that with our shallow draft we would have no problem and the water would be plenty deep... just time the wave set correctly to avoid breaking waves. We did NOT take the panga all the way through the pass just looked at where were we would aim for from a safe distance. The fishing guests aboard Rubens boat were getting pretty stressed at this point and were hopelessly under dressed for the brisk wind and spray to found out in the vicinity of the ocean pass.

Delivered back to LightSpeed we tipped Ruben 200 pesos for his service and decided to 'go for it' as the tide was at high slack and the swell forecast suggested that tomorrow the whole pass might be closed out with huge breakers.

Following the track on the Garmin GPS and visually navigating we were almost at the point of no turning back (you never try to turn around in breaking waves) when a fog bank rolled in limiting visibility to only about 100'. A huge problem as we needed to observe the wave set to know when to go for it. So we carefully followed our track back toward the protection of the estuary. Stopping the boat and patiently waiting I silently told myself to wait it out for 30 minutes and if the fog didn't lift we would bail and take the inland waterway back to Bahia Magdalena and back track the 60nm. My nerves were a little tensed with the introduction of the fog on top of the breaking waves in the pass. Fortunately, the fog lifted after about 20 minutes and we resumed our position safely inside the breakers looking for the best spot to cross the bar. No one spot offered calm water it was down to trying to evaluate which areas had less frequent breaking waves and what the pattern might be to the sets. We slowly powered toward what we thought was the right area and after some discussion and a careful eye on the sounder gunned the engines and went for it. Even the waves that were not breaking in huge snarling cascades of white water were still big and LightSpeed rose to each one with confidences that I was not myself feeling. It turns out our instincts were solid and with our eyes flashing back and forth between the depth sounder and waves we punched the engines and shot out the pass between breaking sets of waves. Whew! It turns out my biggest fear that we would fetch up on a shallow shoal were unfounded as the minimum depth we saw on the sounder was 3 meters and that is under the keels so almost 4 meters of depth at the shallowest point. Not so bad. Would I do it again in the same conditions only with a knowledgeable guide like Ruben Duran onboard or in a guide boat. Ruben can be contacted for guided fishing trips or guided bar crossings (Weather permitting) at: 613-11-37303 Cell or 613-13-15263 Home

Happy to be out to sea we are now underway for Turtle Bay our next refuel point. We sailed about 3 hours today before winds became light and the remaining sea state had the sails thrashing about. Diesel is cheaper than sails in such that thrashing sails are more expensive to repair/replace than the alternate of spending money running the diesels.

Ohh and fuel prices were 8.28 pesos per liter NOT the 10.50 the port captain? / guy in panga wanted to charge us at Man-o-War cove and yes our old 'stretched out' jugs still only hold 50 liters. Buyers beware! (See older post for more on the topic of fuel at Man-o-War).

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