Refugio is a common favorite among the few cruisers who venture there. It’s easy to get stuck in the convenience and social calendar of Bahia de Los Angeles, and never venture further north than La Gringa. The Canal de Ballenas is also prone to crazy currents, and this prevents some from making the trek. But it’s a gorgeous and remote place, with excellent fishing and room to explore. If the bugs aren’t bad, you’ll have a hard time leaving.
Most boats will be coming north from Alcatraz, Mitlan or another BdLA anchorage. Other than minding the current, working your way up Canal de Ballenas is straightforward. On approach to the entrance to Refugio, however, there are a number of hazards to consider: 1) Roca Vela sits like a guano-spattered signpost for the entrance, about 2 miles from the channel to the southwest. 2) There is a difficult to spot reef 2/3 of the way between Roca Vela and the headland on the south side of the entrance route. Most boats will take the safe path and round Roca Vela to the north, so after the turn they are clear of this reef as they point directly at the channel center. If you choose to cut the corner, make sure you mark this reef well visually.
On approach to the channel entrance, many will find this natural range helpful: Keep Piedra Blanca in the gap between Isla Division and the peninsula jutting north from the main bulk of Angel de la Guarda. After entering between the headlands, your course will adjust north to roughly 40 degrees true. DO NOT try to cut through the gap south of Isla Division regardless of how it may look. But you can get a sneak peek through here of any boats in the main bay anchorages. If anchoring in the West Bay, congratulations, you’re already here. If looking to anchor in one of the other main bays, you need to continue north and round the north end of Isla Division to proceed into the main bay and select your spot there.
There are five main anchorages in Refugio, by our count. In the west bay there is the popular and aesthetically pleasing NW nook, and the more open area to the south, on the SE side of the channel.
The main bay also has three lobes or bights, each of which makes a fine anchorage. The western bight has more rock hazards, but can be quite suitable if conditions allow. The other two are mostly open, all with good holding.
Mind the tides, which will commonly run 10-12 feet.
There are a number of short hiking paths, and some lovely pebble beaches in the various nooks and coves that are all worth exploring. Also some temporary fish camps in season. No services of any kind, of course.
Swim near (or with, if THEY choose) the sea lions off Isla Granito. It’s amazing to meet these animals face to face on their turf, and the experience guarantees a few heart jumping moments and incredible photo opportunities. Most opt for this as a dinghy trip, but you can also day anchor the mother vessel on the south side of this island sea lion colony. Beware of the behavior of large males (in particular around mating season), and give all of these wild critters the respect and distance they deserve.