MX - Sea of Cortez - 2006/03/15 to 2006/03/30 - Bahia Conception to Loreto - Arrival

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Baja Sea Kayak trip from Bahia Conception to Loreto and the islands around Loreto.

Here is a movie of our adventure.

Part 1

Part 2

"Hey, let's go to Baja again!" said my friend Rick. "We haven't been in four years. Who could we get to go."

"What would you want to do. We have both done the Loreto to La Paz trip." I said.

"Let's do something to the north of Loreto. It's fairly easy to get there and will involve some open coast kayaking. I'll start looking into kayak rentals and hotels." he said.

"Great, I will start looking at air flights and costs." I replied.

And so it began. And it was much harder to put together than we thought. Who to invite, when to go were easy. But there was no one renting boats without a guide in the Loreto area. Three Canadian women had run into a storm crossing from Isla Carmen to Isla Coronado and one of them had died. Local outfitters had shut off all un-escorted kayak trips. We finally found one still renting, the same outfitter that had rented to the unfortunate Canadian women, Gabriola Cycle and Kayak from BC Canada. Probably Gabriola was afraid to shut down as it might look as if they felt that there was something inherently dangerous about their business and that might not look good from a possible liability standpoint. So they were still renting and they had a few acceptable boats available. We had to adjust our calendar and itinerary to meet the boat availability but we secured a 10 day rental for three of us and a 7 day rental for two others who could not muster as much time away from work.

The flight schedule proved equally daunting. Flying into LAX was no real problem as there were lots of cheap direct flights on Southwest Airlines. But getting down to Loreto from there was very strange. Most flights were $740 to $1000.00 from LAX to LTO using either Aero Mexico or Alaskan Air. But Aero California flew twice a week, Thursdays and Sundays, one flight each day for $250.00. So that meant we were flying on Thursday, even though the boats weren't rentable until Saturday. Then we found out that the flight out of LAX left only 1:45 after the earliest flight into LAX from Baltimore. No good, since it is an international flight and you must clear customs between connections. We would have to fly out Wednesday night, stay overnight and catch the mid day flight down to Loreto arriving after 4:00 PM. More schedule adjustments.

The connections were much better on the return flight. We would leave 9:40 AM MT from Loreto, make a smooth connection in LAX departing 12:40 PM PST for Baltimore and arriving 8:45 PM EST in Baltimore.

The Loreto hotel booking didn't go any smoother. All the hotels seemed to be booked, at least the ones on the beach. We wanted to be able to paddle our kayaks up to the beach when we finished the first part of the trip prior to leaving on the second. Finally we found that the Hotel Oasis had rooms available, were on the beach and weren't completely serious about their three night minimum, allowing us to book three nights spread between our arrival, mid trip rest stop and departure.

So everything was in order. All I had to do now was to get my rotator cuff muscles rehabilitated. I had partial tears in all my rotator cuff muscles from overuse (too much hard paddling) aggravated by sleeping on my shoulders and an unwise surfing week with them already sore. I was taking physical therapy, pulling on rubber bands and lifting minuscule weights. I had three months to work them into shape where I would not be a drag or danger to my friends on the trip. If things went well on the trip, I would continue my strengthening of the remaining muscle. If not, I would have to have surgery so I could get back to paddling.

By late December I had worked up to the next level of weights and bands, but things were still sore. I went to a rolling session in the pool to practice rolling with a minimum of shoulder strain and things went well there. By February I had graduated to small weights and went out on some short paddles, switching to a Greenland paddle for easier action on my shoulders. The short paddles there made them sore for a week and I had to back off on the weight program. Things were looking grim but I pressed on. I designed a sail for my kayak to use if I got the chance and reduce the mileage I might have to paddle. We were planning on 200 miles.

By March things were still shaky but I decided to go anyway. I didn't think I would pose a danger to my companions, but I wasn't sure my shoulders would hold with day after day of paddling 15 - 20 miles. There was no way to prepare for it that wouldn't risk making them sore before I left. So it was off on the trip hoping for the best, starting a prophylactic program of anti-inflammatories about a week before I would start paddling.

The flight out was the usual cattle car experience of a discount flight. Atypical for Southwest, we were over 2 hours late getting off the ground in Baltimore. We were thankful that we had not tried to make a same day connection with Aero California for we surely would have missed it. We got into LAX, shuttled to the airport Holiday Inn and were all trying to sleep. Even at 3 A.M. body time, we were so excited that it took a while to drift off.

The next day we were back at the airport. After exchanging dollars for pesos in a scene that made the Keystone Cops look organized, we boarded Aero California which got us to Loreto without incident. There we connected with a local cab driver. All fares in the Loreto area are priced controlled so there is no haggling required. That was nice. Soon we had all our bags unloaded and were checked into the hotel.

The Hotel Oasis has nicely manicured grounds of tall date and shade palms with tropical plants all around and good sized rooms of modest decor. There are hammocks strung outside of the ocean front rooms. Julio claimed one immediately. The hotel is right on a wide sand beach looking straight east toward Isla Carmen.

The hotel has an adequate restaurant and bar on site. The guests are mostly fishermen. At this time of year the yellowtail are running and many come with large ice chests which they fill with the abundant fish and haul back to the States. One guy had 300 lbs of fillets in just two days of fishing.

We then headed off to the Supermercado for supplies: totillas, salsa, vegetables, citrus fruits, canned goods and tequila. Hauling our booty down the dusty streets, we heard the siren song of fish tacos and cool beer. A couple of rounds later and we shuffled back to our rooms for the first of many rounds of gear packing and unpacking. A cool night fell as we finished our individual tasks and we slipped off to await the next days adventure.

All five of us were up before dawn. We were treated to a spectacular sunrise over Isla Carmen. We walked along the shore in front of the hotel as each moment became more and more fabulous. (Sun1 Sun2 Sun3 Panga1 Panga2 ) Finally an "Endless Summer" sun broke above the island lying 12 miles offshore and the bright Baja day began.

Loreto was the first capital of Baja California Sur. The capital is now La Paz which has a much bigger population. The smaller Loreto is dominated by the tourist trade. There is a very large population of American visitors around the downtown area. The whole city has a much different feel than La Paz with its 250000 local population.

The first mission in the Californias is located in Loreto. It is located in the historic district of the city. Surrounded by cobble stone streets, a public square and several restaurants, the current version of the mission is quite beautiful. There is a small charge for the museum housed within the mission. Respectful access to the chapel is available whenever there is no service being held. Worshippers are called to mass by the ringing of the tower bell.

Across from the city hall just a block east of the mission is the hotel Posada des Flores, a beautiful restoration of a thick walled Spanish style house with a central courtyard surrounded by rooms and massive doors open to the street. In the ceiling is the clear bottom of the pool top roof. Up on the roof is a restaurant and bar. From the rooftop one can look over the tall palms to the bright blue waters of the Sea of Cortez. The lobby and courtyard of the hotel feature a water fountain, rich planting and massive antiques. It is really a gorgeous place - with prices to match.

We were scheduled to meet Joel, the local representative of Gabriola Cycle and Kayak at the Cafe Ole', a small open street Mexican fast food restaurant next to the Posada des Flores. Joel wandered in with his dog about 15 minutes late for the meeting. He had all the paperwork for the National Park with our itinerary and park approvals. He went over the paperwork and then started covering the equipment, specifically the portable toilet. He changed his mind several times about whether we really needed to take one. He said the only one he had left was a very large one, all the others being in use on other trips.
We inquired as to whether it wasn't a park requirement to have one available, and then he changed his story to say yes, we better have one along. Then he said that the other party would be in sometime Saturday up in Bahia Conception to exchange the boats with us. This made our alarm bells go off, because we had talked to Peter, the owner of Gabriola Cycle and Kayak, who had told us several times that the previous party would be in Friday night. Sensing our extreme displeasure with this Saturday news, Joel's story changed and the other group was going to come in Friday night and be picked up Saturday morning, which was our original understanding. We confirmed that they were coming in to Playa Requeson as we had been told and that that beach was small and we could not possibly miss them. We inquired about the propane gas stove we requested and reminded him that he was to send a repair bag up with us so that we could fix any damage to the kayaks that we were taking over from the other group.

We walked back with Joel to a small house about a block from the port captain's office and marina just off the malecon. Joel was very proud of this new house which he was working on fixing up. He gave us a complete tour of the place, small living quarters with an office in the back for doing the paperwork. There was a wood rack in the back of the house for storing the kayaks. It was empty. There were three very beat up kayaks behind the house. These must have been the kayaks used by the Canadian women who had run in to trouble. They were heavily damaged from being abandoned to the rocks.

We said good-bye and went back to the hotel for final preparation for the trip. Julio took to the hammock once more to enjoy a Cuban cigar, an illegal pleasure in the U.S.A. This one smelled good, unlike most cigars. The mango juice topped it all off. But what else would El Mango be drinking?

The time had come to get up to Bahia Conception. We put all the gear in a huge pile in front of the hotel. Oscar, a shuttle driver arranged for us through Gabriola, arrived on time. We would work with Antonio , the taxi driver who brought us to the hotel from the airport for the rest of our shuttle needs. It seems that the taxis here are all large vans sporting sturdy racks on top. Most drivers seem to have had a lot of experience shuttling kayaks as they have carpeted racks to attach to the metal racks and tie down straps to haul 5 or 6 kayaks. Antonio was always on time and when he had a better engagement for the day, he arranged for a substitute driver who took us to the airport. This substitute was also punctual. In general we were very pleased with the reliability and courtesy of the drivers in Loreto.

It was a 90 minute ride up the coast to Bahia Conception. The dusty hard scrabble roadside ranchos had not seen any rain for over a year. We were stopped by a military roadblock. We all got out of the car and after a cursory inspection of the vehicle for drugs, we proceeded up the highway. Soon we got our first look at the water on the southern end of the bay. The road was constructed along the west shore of the bahia along a steep wall of crumbling rock. As we drove down the steep roadway, we saw a large white beach with 7 kayaks pulled up on it. They looked like the same types of kayaks that we were supposed to pick up. But that was not Playa Requeson and Oscar just kept driving up the road.
We arrived at Playa Requeson. There were a number of campers on the small beach stretched between the mainland and a small rock island. We got out and looked around a little bit and discussed amongst ourselves the party we had seen at the other beach several miles down the road. Some of us thought that the boats looked like those we were renting, Necky Teslas and Current Design Solstices. We talked to Oscar and got him to take us back to the first beach we saw. There we discovered that it was indeed our party. They were surprised about the confusion as they had told Joel that they would be coming into this beach and not the other one. He was supposed to tell us that. It was a huge disaster that could have wrecked the start of our trip. It was narrowly averted only by our being alert and careful. Now it looked as if things were going to work well as we had several hours to prep our equipment and get ready for an early departure Saturday morning.

We formed a line and piled all our gear onto the beach. As usual, it didn't look like it would ever fit into the small kayaks. We set up our tents on the beach for shade and started sorting the gear. A resident from a house on the edge of the beach came down and wanted $1.00 for each tent for camping on the beach. All Mexican beaches are open and free for camping to citizens and visitors. Even those in front of expensive hotels. So we were not inclined to cooperate with this little extortion. Julio told him we would talk about it together and that he could come back a ask again later, the polite Spanish way of saying "No". We were a little conflicted in this as they have so little income here.
We began to look over the boats and equipment and they were in bad shape. The harsh sun, salt water and heavy usage makes most rental boats in Baja below average, but most of these were in really bad shape. The nylon spray skirts were hard and had lost all waterproofing on the underside. They were sure to leak (and they did). The hand pumps would not pick up water unless you put them over the side and primed them with a few full strokes and then put them back into the cockpit. Even then they about half as effective as new pumps. Rick had brought his own pump. It was the only one that worked well. I picked a Tesla with new deck rigging. The boat hand toggle was badly frayed but looked like it would hold. I checked the rudder cables, which were in good shape, adjusted the foot braces and checked the soundness of the adjustment straps. We knew Teslas had very poor deck rigging, so we had brought our own 1/8" high strength rope to string additional side deck lines. We quickly had the three Teslas up to snuff with the new rigging. I used the tools in the repair kit to tighten all the bolts and nuts on the rudder. My personal boat doesn't have a rudder. I have always been suspicious of the reliability of a rudder and was not surprised to find several loose nuts on this one. This one also looked like it had been repaired at least once. Beat up rudders are not uncommon on rental equipment as many novice kayakers forget to ship them before they run into shore.

The hull of my boat was in good shape as there were several fiberglass keel patches applied on the inside of the hull and a generous slathering of gel coat on the outside. Harding showed me the inside of his which was passing a lot of light through the keel. I told him light didn't matter as fiberglass and resin was translucent and it might mean that only the gelcoat was gone. What mattered was the condition of the fiberglass itself which looked OK from the inside, but it shold be checked on the outside too. As it turned out, we should have checked it out more thoroughly as the next day it would develop a hole and start leaking as he was paddling. There was resin and two part epoxy in the tool kit and we could have made a repair that evening.

After cleaning up the kayaks, we put them in the water and paddled about near the nice beach. I mounted my newly designed and constructed sail and tried it out. There was a stiff 15-20 knot breeze blowing off the beach and I was soon making tracks north at a full clip. Since I didn't want to struggle back paddling upwind to return to the beach, I made the downwind portion short. I spent some time testing the off wind capability of the sail and was able to do a broad reach with it, although at much reduced speed from straight down wind. However I was impressed with the ease of handing the sail in both setting it up and taking it down. The sail was steady and predictable in the puffy wind with plenty of built in softness to eliminate sudden imbalances. I was quite pleased. ( Design specs coming soon). The two piece mast connection was a little difficult however. Some redesign would be necessary here. My shoulders were a little sore already so I was happy to have the sail along.
With my kayak ready I turned my attention to our stove. The case was a little rusty but that was to be expected in a salt water environment. It was a two burner propane stove. It came with a 5 lb. iron gas talk. I mounted the rubber hose to the tank, screwed in the connection to the stove and turned on the gas. Immediately I could smell gas. It was coming from the stove end of the hose, at the connection. I made sure it was tight, but the leak could not be stopped. Great. I unscrewed the hose connection and look at the O ring on the nozzle. It had several almost completely through cracks in it. No doubt this 5 cent rubber O ring was the problem. There were no replacements in the tool kit. I got some lip balm from Julio, applied it liberally to the O Ring and got the leak stopped. But I know that the O ring was precarious, because at any time the thing could break.

The other group had a stove also and were willing to exchange their hose for ours. We did this and started over. Still there was a leak. This time it was not the hose but the tank valve itself. Since the other group was out of gas, there was no exchange possible here. We found a tube of 3M Marine patching compound in the repair kit. We applied it liberally to the screw in threads of the tank. We got the leak stopped. We cooked our dinner on the stove which worked admirably once all the leaks were stopped. When we told Joel about the tank leak at the end of the trip, he said, "Oh, it only leaks when its hot.". In Baja, sitting on top of a kayak in the open sun that is pretty much all the time. Word - check your equipment before leaving town.

We finished dinner as night fell and a riot of stars came out. The strong southerly wind had died and a north wind had sprung up. Little waves began to come ashore and they were glowing with bioluminescence. Rows of soft blue green light rolled onto the shore and little bright streaks from passing fish countered the occasional shooting star crossing the star canopy overhead. It was a beautiful night marred only by the loud engine braking of tractor trailer trucks as they came down the steep highway just overhead. But we knew that in the morning we would be off on the first real day of our adventure. it had been a long time getting to this spot and I for one was ready for the adventure ahead.

On to Day 1.......

MX - Sea of Cortez - 2006/03/15 to 2006/03/30 - Loreto - Day 08

The Sierra Giganta of the Baja peninsula form a spectacular backdrop to the azure Sea of Cortez from Danzante Island. We continue our trip with a day paddle for Julio and Bob and the start of the second part of our Mexican adventure for Rick and Hank.

MX - Sea of Cortez - 2006/03/15 to 2006/03/30 - Bahia Conception to Loreto - Day 04

Our kayak trip continues from San Nicolas, past El Pulpito to the beautiful bay at San Juanico.

MX - Sea of Cortez - 2006/03/15 to 2006/03/30 - Loreto - Day 10

Another calm day for our paddle back to Isla Danzante and then down to Candelero Chico where we spend the afternoon relaxing with snorkeling and playing in the shore rocks.

MX - Sea of Cortez - 2006/03/15 to 2006/03/30 - Bahia Conception to Loreto - Day 06

Leaving our wind refuge at Boca San Bruno, a strong west wind keeps us tight against the shore as we paddle back to Loreto.

MX - Sea of Cortez - 2006/03/15 to 2006/03/30 - Loreto - Day 09

From Isla Danzante, a short crossing brings us to Isla Carmen where we play tag with fin whales, 80 foot monsters of the Canal de Ballenas.

MX - Sea of Cortez - 2006/03/15 to 2006/03/30 - Bahia Conception to Loreto - Day 01 - 18 miles

Launching from Playa Freson, we paddle up Bahia Conception, stopping at Isla Blanca. We arrive just short of our intended destination, Punta Conception.

MX - Sea of Cortez - 2006/03/15 to 2006/03/30 - Loreto - Day 07

A rest day between trip legs allows a land trip to Mission San Xavier in the mountains west of Loreto.

MX - Sea of Cortez - 2006/03/15 to 2006/03/30 - Bahia Conception to Loreto - Day 02

Leaving the shallow waters of Bahia Conception, we round Punta Conception, paddle into the Sea of Cortez and head south along the coast .

MX - Sea of Cortez - 2006/03/15 to 2006/03/30 - Bahia Conception to Loreto - Day 03

Fair winds provide and opportunity to try out my sail. We end the windy day high atop a sand dune.

MX - Sea of Cortez - 2006/03/15 to 2006/03/30 - Loreto - Day 11

From Candelero Chico we paddled 24 miles back to Loreto. The first half of the trip was flat calm. In the second half, a little tail wind makes the long mileage bearable.

MX - Sea of Cortez - 2006/03/15 to 2006/03/30 - Bahia Conception to Loreto - Day 05

Leaving San Juanico, the wind picks up to 20 to 25 knots ( Force 5) and we have a roller coaster ride down to San Bruno where problems with our chart leads to some interesting developments.




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