We have been struck over and over by the number of west coast cruisers who, in a rush to get to the South Pacific, give short shrift to Mexico in general, and in particular to the jaw-dropping Sea of Cortez. Many cruisers who have been at it for decades, and in fact have circled the globe more than once name as one of their key mistakes leaving Mexico too soon. We couldn’t agree more. The Sea of Cortez deserves some dedicated exploration, and not just a rushed month and a half in the winter, post Baja Ha Ha, when the temps are cold and the Northers are howling.
Families and sailors who dread rolly anchorages and surf landings in the dinghy will LOVE the lake-like anchorages of the Sea. Once north of the East Cape, ocean swell drops to near zero. This is not to say there is no wind or weather in the Sea, but in general the conditions are quite benign, and the anchorages delightfully flat.
Weather here is cyclical, dominated by two regimes: Winter Northers and Summer SE/Tropical Storm Season. Cruisers enjoy the Sea year round, but the prime seasons for exploring this area under sail would be April to June, and Late October to December. The middle winter months are riddled with Northers, cold and sometimes fierce winds of 30+ knots that originate in winter high pressure in the southwestern US, and blow the full length of the Sea, often kicking up some serious short period wind waves and swell. These can blow for 1-4 days, with sometimes woefully short periods of lovely cool weather in between. The opposite side of the cycle, starting in April or May, is typified by light SE breezes and calm periods that slowly melt into the intense heat and humidity of summer. In the fall the humidity and heat will finally break somewhere between late October and the middle of November, giving cool sleeping temps and a few glorious weeks of perfect cruising conditions before northers set in again.
Most Cruisers move quickly past the introductory anchorages of the East Cape area, and head for La Paz, a proper cruising hub and intro into Baja culture and food. The next sizable city is Loreto, nearly 150 miles north, with some of the most spectacular cruising spread out between. Many cruisers will never venture further north than the Loreto area, but they miss out on a lot. From Santa Rosalia north to the Bahia de Los Angeles area (a common haunt for 10-25 cruising boats for the heart of tropical storm season every year), the Sea gets more remote, raw, and full of sea life as you venture north and leave crowds, and in many cases civilization, behind. The extreme northern sea from Gonzaga Bay to San Filipe and Puerto Peñasco are generally even less traveled, although Puerto Penasco has in recent years become a popular spot to put up the boat for the off season, or take advantage of one of the only DIY boat yards in the region.
No matter how far you venture in to the Sea of Cortez, it will lurk in your memories, with visions of crystal clear waters, towering colorful mountain ranges, and isolated island beaches, and the blow of nearby whales or the whizzz of fishing line peeling off your reel. Unless you’re just not into that sort of thing (?), it will certainly draw you back.
Contrary to popular belief, we’re HUGE fans of printed cruising guides, and consider them essential gear for cruising any coast. Below are the OCG recommended guides for this area. Following the links and purchasing these cruising guides (or anything else) helps fund OCG through a small commission. Thanks!