A Piece of Cake

This boat log continues with our more recent passages down the west coast of Baja to our initial goal-destination of La Paz.

We made it to Baja Sur (the southern state of the Baja peninsula), landing in Bahía Tortugas after Isla de Cedros.  Tortugas is a remote town that marks the halfway point on the desolate west coast of Baja.  It thrives on providing supplies and fuel to boats making the trek toward the promised water of the Sea of Cortez.  We had heard stories that the floating fuel vendors in Tortugas charge excessive rates and cheat the amount of fuel that they provide.  The local gas station is a short walk from the beach into town, and we could easily carry or wheel jerrycans there to avoid the racket.  But Rob and I believe that the “excessive rates” of the floating fuel vendors are merely a service fee to enjoy the convenience of them bringing fuel to your boat.  And our past experiences taught us that negative stories about people are often misguided or exaggerated.  

As soon as we dropped anchor, a fuel boat approached and the vendor offered his service.  We planned to buy fuel from him later to support his business but needed to first check our tanks and get settled.  So, we politely declined.  He had a strange response, telling us that we should avoid taking our dinghy to the beach because “banditos” would steal our outboard motor.  We saw through the veiled threat as a way to dissuade us from buying fuel at the town’s gas station.  

We went to town several times over the course of our five days in Bahía Tortugas, leaving our dinghy on the beach, locked to a light pole with the outboard locked to the transom.  Of course, a savvy thief could easily cut the lock to the dinghy or, even, cut the transom to obtain the outboard.  But the most interest directed at us or our boat were friendly waves from a family who lived in a house on the beach and from the children playing in the park across the street.  The fuel hustlers persisted, and each time we went to shore, they repeatedly yelled at us about banditos.  They offered another service, too, imploring us to tie our dinghy to their dock, where we could pay them to guard it. 

Through regulations or lost visitors, the COVID-19 pandemic has closed or severely hampered most businesses in the Baja towns we stopped.  The fuel vendors’ desperate attempts to ensure our business were a sign of that struggle.  Thankfully, we also witnessed a sign of hope against the pandemic’s destruction.  It flew into Tortugas one night.  From our boat, we watched a helicopter land in the town’s basketball court for 15 minutes before flying back into the moonless night.  The next morning, during a grocery-store run, we saw a line of people outside the local police station and medical clinic.  The military was administering COVID-19 vaccines, which the helicopter had delivered!    

The other major event for us in Tortugas was baked from a Betty Crocker cake mix.  Boxes of it are common shelf items at Baja markets.  And, in celebration of reaching Baja Sur, I bought a box.  We ate our pieces of cake and decided to deliver two of the extra pieces to a man on a fishing boat anchored next to us.  He was thrilled, and immediately handed us a reciprocal gift of fresh clam ceviche.  Then, 20 minutes later, he dinghied over to our boat, gifting us four lobster tails.  The bartering market in Mexico is clearly skewed toward sugar.

The man’s name is Leonardo and he is the engineer (and security while in port) of a fishing boat that works as a supply vessel to the nearby island of Natividad.  A smaller local boat shuttles food, fuel, and various items from shore to Leonardo’s boat.  The most impressive of those items was a full-size truck, which precariously balanced on the shuttle boat between the cabin and motor before Leonardo craned it onto his boat’s deck.   Leonardo works year-round, living on the boat, with one annual vacation, which he spends visiting his children and girlfriend in Ensenada.   We spent several afternoons visiting with him on his boat with him patiently interpreting our often-inadequate Spanish.  

The day before setting out to continue our west-coast-Baja passage, we conducted business with the fuel vendors.  We told them the quantity of fuel that we wished to purchase, we agreed on a price, and they hauled it in a large tank on their boat to our boat.  We asked them to fill our five-gallon jerrycans one at a time so that we could make sure our fuel gauge was properly calibrated.  The method provided an additional benefit of allowing us to check that we received the amount of fuel that we had ordered.  At jug number 7, one of the two men on the fuel boat said that he was at jug 8.  Rob and I protested, and I showed him the written record that I was keeping as Rob emptied each jerrycan into our fuel tanks.  The vendors continued to fill until actual jug 10, arguing the entire time that they were giving us 11 jugs.  They loudly talked about how we were cheats and “ratos” but accepted payment for 50 gallons as originally agreed.  I paid and told them to keep the change (a minimal amount).  Then, they screamed about how they had worked hard and deserved a better tip.  I was unaware that a tip for the fuel service was customary and had not factored it in.  In the end, we gave them an extra 200 pesos (about $10), which they accepted.  I was happy to give them the money that we did—they definitely need it and they did provide a service—but their interactions with us only support their reputation as the true “banditos” of Tortugas.   

The rest of our journey down Baja Sur’s west coast was unremarkable apart from the sea life, the beautiful desert shoreline, and the wild blue Pacific.  We stopped at Bahía Asunción, Abreojos, and Bahía de Magdalena (the latter of which afforded us more time sharing an anchorage with gray whales), before making it to Los Cabos at the tip of Baja.

As we neared Cabo San Lucas, its infamous rock arches in sight, a flotilla of pangas, giant motor cruisers, and a pirate ship rapidly approached us.  Tourists!  Sunburnt faces and English screams greeted us on their way to search for whales and a morning alcohol-buzz.  This was somewhat shocking to us after our acclimation to the small dusty towns of Baja’s west coast.  We anchored amongst mega yachts just off the resort-packed beach and promptly found pizza and craft beer at a rooftop brewery overlooking the water.  We soon tired of the tourist-packed town and raised anchor to head on to La Paz.  

Strong winds and waves in the wrong direction hit us as we attempted to round the tip of Baja’s peninsula.  We decided against a stubborn onward fight and, instead, turned around and pulled into the other cabo (San José del Cabo).  There, we found an immaculate (and reasonably priced) marina attached to a resort.  Unlike Cabo San Lucas, the space was not overcrowded.  The streets around the marina were peaceful and offered several quality restaurants (even ones with vegetarian menu items).  You might guess which one captured most of our dinner dinero—the one with the friendly dog out front and a sign reading “El Marinero Borracho.”  Finding this refuge, we spent a day cleaning the entire boat, ourselves, and our laundry, and then we treated ourselves to a few “vacation days.”  For two lazy afternoons, we hung out at the resort’s private beach and its rooftop swimming pool before pushing on in much calmer weather around Baja’s point and into the Sea of Cortez.  We made it to La Paz, by way of Bahía Los Frailes and Ensenada de Muertos, three months later than we originally planned . . . it was a piece of cake.

Mapache and Leonardo’s boat in Bahía Tortugas, and our dinghy locked up on the beach

Shuttle boat transporting the full-size truck to Leonardo’s supply boat

Leonardo and his boat (with the truck onboard)

Bahía Asunción — the only other sailboat that we saw there (pictured on the left) is home to a full-time Asunción resident and American expat


Mapache anchored in Bahía de Magdalena (commonly referred to as Mag Bay)

Skulls at Mag Bay, which used to be home to a whaling operation; thankfully, the area’s present-day primary business (whale-watching) requires that the whales stay alive

We became popular with the kids in Mag Bay for our Mapache-sticker handouts

Cabo San Lucas arches

Cabo San Lucas

Mapache rubbing elbows with the rich in Cabo San Lucas

Celebratory beers for making it to the tip of Baja–Cabo San Lucas

Mapache docked at San Jose del Cabo marina

Sunset at San Jose del Cabo

Our favorite restaurant in San Jose del Cabo . . . What would you do with a marinero borracho? We don’t know, but we tried to figure it out.

Private-resort-beach life in San Jose del Cabo

Rooftop-pool time in San Jose del Cabo

The rays in Bahía Los Frailes were trying to fly!

Ensenada de Muertos or Bahía De Los Muertos, which the local businesses are rebranding as Bahía De Los Sueños (Bay of Dreams, rather than Bay of the Dead)

We made it . . . just three months after our planned arrival!

2 thoughts on “A Piece of Cake

  1. Another well-written and content-full article. Thanks so much guys, we are living vicariously through you! Be safe and have a wonderful time. love from Perth, Australia

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: