Well, we didn’t quite sail to summer on our first shot, but 600 sea miles and 2/3 of the way down the windy Baja California Peninsula we “felt” our way in and dropped anchor in the dead of a pitch black night, in Bahia Santa Maria, in 30ft of 68-degree water. It might not be tropical water, but at least we’re doing better than the 58-degree water temps we left back home. It was my first time to this remote yet semi-famous bay, as the 100+ boats of the annual Baha Haha cruising rally stop here each year to party in the desolation, on their way down, filling its vast emptiness, just a wee bit, for a short time. It is always an intense and heightened experience coming into an unknown bay or anchorage for the first time at night, especially with no moon shining. Even with modern electronics, which put a radar overlay on the GPS chart plotter, it can be harrowing, however this bay seemed to have plenty of room for us and with our anchor holding solid on our first set, in what seemed to be sand, with no other boats close to us at all, I knew I could rest easy for the first time in five long days. The LighterBro Boat was secure and after a brief time decompressing, enjoying our new found stillness, sitting alone in the cockpit, marveling at the billions of stars, visible both above and below, as they twinkled, reflecting off the mirrored still waters of bay, I joined Courtney sound asleep in bed below and slept well, but mostly finally longer than four hours in a row, in a truly placid, sheet glass anchorage.
Arising late, awakened by the glare of the fierce Baja desert sun and the heat of even a winter’s Baja day, I shake off the weariness of coming back form a sleep deprived state of being. Coffee is in my hand and caffeine quickly invades my arteries, as I admire the overly spacious Bahia Santa Maria and its still glassy conditions. I see where the row of pongas (narrow, but long, small Mexican fishing boats with outboard motors) were anchored last night and spy another cruising power boat at anchor, which turns out to be just one of our many encounters with Boppy’s Star along this watery road. We had bid farewell to them, when they departed Ensenada a few days before us on New Year’s Eve and now we had caught up. For exactly the opposite of us, they had been waiting for the wind and sea to calm down before heading further south, reducing the roll and increasing the comfort of their down hill ride.
When boating at night, everything looks much closer than it really is and from experience, I knew I wasn’t that close to the other boats anchored in the bay, but now, illuminated by daylight, I was truly way far away from them, because Bahia Santa Maria is huge! It is shaped like a perfect small bay, but on steroids, 9 NM across to the exposed side, 4 NM deep and truly vast. We picked an ok spot to anchor in the middle of the night, but it was probably not the best spot should the wind decide to blow again, which you know it will soon again in Baja and we were far away from what looked like some cool land, hills and mountains to explore on shore.
Weighing anchor and moving closer to the land on the north side of the bay for exploring and hopefully a bit more shelter should a good blow put in. Our twin yellow kayaks are launched and Courtney and I set off to explore the land.
The stark beauty of Baja never ceases to amaze me, thorny, spiky plants, but beautiful, colorful flowers top many of them, with historically old trash from ancient camp sites scattered here and there and I’m in love with the rawness of it all!
Combing the beach, below an old trash pile, we discover our first sea glass of the trip and are thrilled at the find. For, we enjoy collecting the manmade, but nature polished jewels and something about the idea of the nostalgia of a time, when the trash of society was beyond benign, actually transforming into shimmering, frosted points of nontoxic colorful beauty for our world over time. How do we go back from the polluting plastic of today which is exactly the opposite?
We also encounter our first perfect deserted beaches of the trip, which are ideal for cooling down after a dry and dusty Baja hike. We meet just one friendly local fisherman along the way, who is collecting whelks, a type of sea snails used for lobster bait. He probes the nooks and crannies of the tide pools, using a long metal stick with a hook for an end, which appears to be hammered and formed out of rusty rebar. Probing the cobble rocks, he deftly hooks them, then flicks them into his hand crafted bicycle rim ringed, mesh basket, quickly filling it. He informs us there is a fishing collective or “campa” up the mangrove estuary, who’s entrance through the surf at the head of the bay is still a mystery to us, yet exists, as we have now seen multiple pongas go slowly through the small waves, only to speed off again, vanishing into the dense mangrove swamp.
We decide to investigate, for amazingly this mangrove estuary at the north of the bay, is the furthest north in the entire Pacific Ocean strand of mangroves that exists in our world and is a critically threatened habitat that is disappearing. Awareness needs to be made that pollution and population expansion need to be more effectively combated by whatever means available, to protect these sensitive areas, which contain so much unique biodiversity and are a protective nursery for many spices of infant marine life.
Thankfully Baja’s vast distances, wide open spaces and inhospitable terrain help to geographically isolate many of these sensitive areas and keep wildness within the land.
After a day of tranquil calm, the great windy Baja blow did come, but a solid 20-25 knots of wind is only going to want to make me go kiteboarding since the surf and swell are all flat and even surf exploring is out of the question, with only ankle high waves rolling through on the outside of the bay. I grabbed the hydrofoil that I kite race on in Santa Barbara, rigged my smallest 7-meter kite that I haven’t used in way too long and proceeded to try to launch it and myself off the back of the LighterBro Boat in very windy, gusty conditions. Our catamaran is 25’ wide and it allows me to string my kite lines around her parameter to launch the kite, as I pay it out downwind. With everyone’s help to make sure the lines don’t snag on anything, as we payed out the kite on the water, downwind of the boat. It goes out ok, but one of the five lines is hooked up incorrectly, so I swim out, retie it, swim back and its all good to go. I launch the kite, quickly get my foilboard under me and soon I’m silently gliding across the bay, with my board a full meter above the choppy water, in the gusty, dry wind, with my 7m kite bobbing all over the place like a jelly fish in the strong gusts. But its fucking great! The feeling of hover-boarding exits today and its epic! Only, it is just on water, with a hydrofoil and I cruise around the bay and past a few of the other cruising boats that have now shown up, seeking shelter from the blow. One cruising sailboat in particular, has launched their dingy and a man is rowing into the wind, making no headway whatsoever, apparently for no reason whatsoever, other than to get some exercise and probably enjoying being off his boat for a little bit, even if it is in, a smaller boat.
The kite session lasts for a good two hours of zooming for miles, nearly across the entire bay, all by myself and I absolutely love it. Upwind, downwind, sidewind, whatever wind, on a foilboard its just no problem. You can go wherever you want, silently, at 25 knots easy, powered only by Mother Nature. By foil, I was able to see yellow sand dunes that stretch for miles along the rugged shoreline of the far side of the bay and spied possibly even it’s fabled left point break, all blown out with the normal Baja wind direction. Too much fun on the water, back on the boat, still cold Pacificos and a smiling, warm girlfriend to celebrate the sunset with after a great day in Bahia Santa Maria! This is what life is about, this is why I love to do this, it is the days like these, and there can never be enough of them to remember at the end.
Gradually we get into the groove of Bahia Santa Maria, we enjoy the strong wind, it powers our boat after all through our spinning wind generator, we learn the tricky entrance into the mangrove swamp, through the breaking waves in Red Rocket dingy, with her engine kicked up a bit to avoid the shoals.
Which leads us to start exploring the huge beach, with its unbelievable assortment of colorful sea shells, wild animals and eventually into the scary mangrove swamp.
As we penetrated the tricky surf line, aided by the clear water and encouraged by the sandy bottom, so if we did strike ground the propeller should still be ok, we discovered it wasn’t too hard to stick to the deeper channel we could just descern.
Soon past the beach fishing huts, we’re into the wide main channel of the swamp, where it’s deep and we roared though, or maybe rather cruised through, while the pongas who know these narrow waterways, loaded with shallow spots and dangerous submerged tree branches absolutely roared through at full speed, often kicking up a hefty rooster tail, which exceeded the height of the mangroves themselves.
Stopping first at the fishing huts we saw mostly sharks that had been the day’s catch being gutted and prepared for market. As frigate birds soared above, watching keenly for scraps to eat, diving bravely for them just over our heads, the fishermen meticulously sharpened their knifes until they could effortlessly slice the fins off hammer heads, makos, blue sharks, both big and puny, in one swift stoke of their fillet knife. They told us the sharks will all be eaten, not just the fins, and the birds get the guts, which is the only waste.
There is no way a person like myself, a privileged first world citizen, can complain to these fisher people, living in beach huts and swamp shacks, with no electricity, that shark fishing is bad and they should stop. They are only just getting by, in poverty conditions, trying to feed their shoeless kids and doing what mankind has always done, harvesting from the sea. It is not telling these people to stop shark fishing, that is going to end the environmentally damaging problem of shark fishing which is throwing ecosystems off balance world wide. Only by removing their markets and access to both the legal and black markets which exist to fund their operations, while offering them a new opportunity to earn a living, like eco tourism, such as whale watching to replace their lost income that will help solve the shark fishing problem. But in a place like Bahia Santa Maria where there is no tourism, then what? It is a question, I wish, I could find an answer for.
But, lobster is sustainable and even in Mexico there is a season, with minimum size limits and we meet some of the lobster trap fishermen who live way up the mangrove swamp in their “campa” and they stop by our boat in the morning by ponga and we trade them some batteries and LighterBro® Multitools in exchange for a scrumptious live lobster dinner. Perfect, as the Ahi tuna we hooked upon arrival is just about out, so time to switch to lobster. Sometimes the ocean throws storms at you and sometimes it throws seafood. I’m always shooting for more of the latter.
All in all, Bahia Santa Maria is an exemplary anchorage! Calm, sheltered water in strong winds, good holding, friendly inhabitants, yet mostly deserted, great hiking, beach combing, sea shelling, and mangrove swamp running. But, sadly our time was up, it was looking like our next stop was just a short day sail away to Bahia da Magdalena, so on another beautiful Baja morning, with a steady northwest wind blowing, we departed in search of new adventure, having learned new lessons in the ways of our world, in our too short four days anchored in Bahia Santa Maria and for sure on our way out, I’m going to sail by the south point of the bay to look for that mysto left point break again.