Puerto Escondido sits on the eastern lower third of the Baja peninsula, about 22 kilometers south of Loreto and about 175 miles north of La Paz, at 25 deg.48.4’N and 111 deg.18.1’ W. The port is a beautiful oval indentation in the coast, surrounded by high mountain peaks and lots of natural beauty, completely protected - or at least as protected as any Baja anchorage can be. It is known as a hurricane hole because the surrounding mountains protect the bay from the direct force of a hurricane and its dangerous sea surges. In the past many cruisers came here for the beauty and the safety of the bay -- and few ever left after having dropped anchor. However, a few years ago this excellent natural anchorage in central Baja was taken over by Singlar - the Mexican government subagency of Fonatur responsible for developing boating destinations along the coast. Singlar forced many non-cruising cruisers out of Puerto Escondido’s inner bay when Singlar installed mooring balls - accompanied by high rates approaching $50 per night. We had long heard about these and other difficulties at Puerto Escondido - usually from disgruntled cruisers who had been there, and took great offense at the sudden imposition of high fees in exchange for little or no services. The area surrounding the Singlar facility is also the site of a failed resort development, so there are several acres of street lamps, streets, cement sidewalks and concrete-lined estuaries that go nowhere. A resort building - hotel? condos? - sits half-finished and crumbling. It is all very surreal.
Being morbidly curious about all the negativity, we decided to stop by on our way up the Sea of Cortez. It was a lucky choice, because about three nights before we got there our anchor windlass stopped working. We did not know the reason other than our 125-amp and 110-amp fuses were being blown, and the motor would not turn over. [I suspect user error. ms] Naturally the day it failed we were anchored in about 60 feet of water, with about 175 feet of chain out. I found out that the manual action of the windlass would function - it took me 45 minutes to raise the anchor. [Good thing GB spent all those years in the gym on the rowing machine. ms] I disassembled the windlass for some trouble shooting and decided the problem was most likely in the electric windlass motor.
Anyway - under the circumstances we were glad to grab a Singlar mooring ball in Puerto Escondido’s inner bay - and pleased to find out it was only $15 per night for our 40-foot boat. The inner bay was calm and peaceful - with about 75 empty balls and maybe 5 other boats in it. Alternatively, as confirmed by rumors and guide books, the 2 outer anchorages were packed with boats all jammed one on top of each other - some, we found out later, were in the outer “Waiting Room” anchorage using their own permanent, home-built moorings. The inner of these 2 anchorages - a large man made ellipse that was going to be a yacht basin for the failed resort - was also filled with boats at anchor. If I have my facts right, these 2 anchorages are controlled by another entity, API, that we heard charges only 10 pesos (about US $1) per day. Needless to say, this was where all the boaters of PE had gone. It seems that all the denizens were boycotting Singlar to show their displeasure with the rates. Despite the fact that Singlar still provided them with free potable water; a free garbage drop; Internet access, laundry & showers for small fees; and a place for the cruisers’ weekly Sunday brunch - also at no charge.
Once we were settled in we put out a hail during the next morning’s cruisers net asking if anyone knew of an electrical mechanic in nearby Loreto that could look at our windlass motor. Well - the cruiser’s net jumped into action and told us there was one - we caught a ride into town with a fellow cruising couple, the mechanic fixed the motor, and the windlass started working - all for $20 US. But more on that later - that is not what this story is about…….
We realized soon after heading north out of La Paz that the Sea of Cortez feels just like the San Juan/Gulf Islands and Desolation Sound back up in the Pacific Northwest. Many anchorages and other destinations close together make for easy cruising, and the warmer, sunnier weather down here makes it seem even easier. It’s taken us a while to understand that many folks in the Sea of Cortez have not traveled 5,000 miles by boat to get here, taken lots of classes, installed a huge bunch of equipment, spent 100’s of thousands of dollars, etc. From their point of view - why not buy a hurricane damaged boat on eBay in San Carlos for $3,000, or a busted trimaran, and live in PE and sail it around here while you gain some cruising experience. It does not take much to make create an easy lifestyle in Puerto Escondido - especially if you are not concerned with traveling very far on your boat - or getting out on the water very often. The point of this story is that everybody approaches cruising differently down here. Our point of view is from having traveled the distances we have, and our plan to keep going for a while longer.….
In all of the other Mexican ports we have been in there are a few folks who have put down roots, but most seemed to be moving on to somewhere else. Here in PE - this was the end destination. The folks living in PE had been there for a long time - some a really long time - others just for ten years or so. There was “Sunlover,” “Sealover,” “Manta,” “Frenchy,” “Neka” - and many others in the cast of characters. Many had simply pulled in, and not pulled out, content just to cruise the 200-300 miles or so between San Carlos and La Paz - with a homeport in Puerto Escondido. The living seems cheap, slow and easy - the cruisers had a Sunday potluck brunch we went to and met a lot of them. A real nice bunch of people. Many of the PE denizens have cars and are generous with their time and their help, but they seem to spend more that a few months each year back in the states. Fewer of them know very much about the area around PE itself. For example, hardly any of them had ever traveled the 30-mile road from Loreto to Mission San Javier - I guess because it was not paved and more like your average Forest Service or logging road - but what a great trip that was and what a shame to live in PE for years and not see it. Also, for such a small place with so many long term expats - PE has become sort of like an ingrown extended family - opinions, intrigues, backstabbing, and rumors spread like wildfire across the VHF net and beyond - it was Peyton Place in the Outback - a veritable soap opera of cruisers whiling away their retirement days…..
During our time there, we noticed that it is fairly common for boats to drag anchor all over the anchorages any time the wind exceeds about 12 knots. In one case the wind picked up to 15 knots and a bunch of guys jumped on one dragging boat to help, and pulled up the chain not attached to anything. Another guy said he made very sturdy permanent mooring buoys out of old hub caps welded together with rebar - for use in the public anchorage, of course. You don’t need a lot of high tech equipment in PE - just make your own anchor from what’s lying around. We were concerned, though, because (1) if you drag anchor in 12 to 15 knots of wind, something about your ground tackle or anchoring technique is very wrong; and (2) we would never want to spend hurricane season in a place where Draggy McDraggerson’s boat starts drifting into ours whenever the wind picks up above a whisper. Regardless, we truly enjoyed our short time in PE and the generous people we met there, and we’d recommend going there especially to get off the boat, rent a car and do some inland touring. [Or get electrical repairs done. ms] But, we were ready to move on after less than a week. If we ever get back - I am sure Sunlover and the Net will be able to give us the news about what has been going on……..