The short chop rises and falls as it crosses the bay. Wind swirls in short gusts, twisting and turning around, over, above and beyond the mountains that stand vertical as a backdrop to Bahia de Coyote. A small bay in the larger Bahia de Concepcion connected to the substantially larger Sea of Cortez, which borders and collides, quite literally at times, with mainland Mexico and Baja. This particular day was one of many similar days sailing in the Sea of Cortez with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). This is a very different sailing experience than I have regularly signed up for during my past sailing endeavors. Part wilderness expedition and part coastal sailing that pushes my sailing skills in a new direction. Both my trips so far have tested my forethought and skills but also invoked a significant “wow” factor that is unlike anything I have experienced in Toronto or the UK.
First we prepare for living in one of the most remote and harsh environments I have travelled in my life. Baja, Mexico is untouched and wild. A desert with a beautiful but extreme and harsh contrast to the surrounding seascape. Yellow, reds, rock, reefs, cliffs and mountains rise from the turquoise, deep blues and greens. Mountains on sea and land provide challenging hiking and sailing conditions for even the most experiences outdoorsman or sailor.
The sailboats are Drascombe Longboats, built in the UK, ideally suited, due to their stability and flexible sail plan, to the strong winds and mountainous seas that are always threatening on the Sea of Cortez. In the boats we carry water, food, dive and personal equipment for each ration period. A ration period can be up to 10 days but is usually less. Packing for 4-5 people is tough in a small boat like the Drascombe.
When the wind blows it blows. Small puffs grow quickly to a gusty and shifting Force 4. White caps lead to a mainsail reef and a storm jib. Leaving the anchorage we sail a reaching course past the Coyote Island and Blanca, a very white island in the bay. The Drascombe is extremely suitable for coastal travel because of its ample space for equipment and stability. However, it’s also responsive, balanced on the helm and quick for its weight and size. It was nice to feel the cool spray break over the bow of the boat as we hummed along a slight heel and good speed towards our first anchorage of the trip, a beautiful pebble beach protected from the strong North wind or Norte.
My last expedition was my first full expedition in the Sea of Cortez. It lasted 23 days and took us 150 miles to the south. One of 4 instructors, we taught 13 students how to sail and at some point had all of them skippering the boats with minimal input from us. One of the amazing things about the Sea of Cortez is the wildlife. Not only did we get to sail the beautiful Baja coastline but we experienced it while hiking and snorkeling the beautiful blue waters. I’m scheduled to go back to sea in Mexico in February with another group of enthusiastic sailors. I’d describe my mood as more than excited both for the sailing and the warm weather in comparison to Canada!