Sunday, May 14, 2023

Bahía Willard, Overnight Passage, Next to Last Stop

San Felipe, Baja California

Intermezzo anchored in San Felipe harbor

We departed beautiful Puerto Refugio Friday morning (May 12th) and had a pleasant but uneventful 9-hour trip to Bahía Willard. Bahía Willard is a nicely protected anchorage, but I was not impressed upon arrival. The landscape looked arid and bland, the little settlements on the north and south shores looked scrappy. It was quite the letdown.

On Saturday I ventured in the dinghy to the settlement of Papa Fernandez to see if I could get some lunch. The settlement has a restaurant, a boat ramp, campsites and a collection of very modest vacation homes built on rented lots. It also has an interesting history, the following copied from the website

The tiny settlement know as Papa Fernández takes its name from its centenarian founder Gorgonio (Papa) Fernández who first established a fish camp there in the 1950's. Later he moved there with his family (from Loreto in a rowboat), and has provided a welcome stop-over for Baja adventurers traveling the rugged dirt track which leads south along the Sea of Cortez from San Felipe to Calamajue Canyon and beyond. Papa passed away on February 20, 2001 at the age of 104 years. 

Early Spanish explorers recognized that the well-protected bay formed by Isla San Luis Gonzaga and the Punta Willard peninsula was a unique natural resource. The bay was first noted in written history in a report to the King of Spain by Fernando P. Consag, a Jesuit Missionary from Mission San Igancio who, with 6 soldiers and a few Indians in 1746, explored the Baja peninsula coast from the south up to the Colorado River Delta. As large ships were very scarce, this was done with four sail canoes.

The original Spanish-dug well still supplies water to the Papa Fernández settlement. Remains of the Jesuit storehouse that was used by Spanish ships to supply Mission Santa Maria near Cataviña can be found nearby.

I dragged the dinghy up onto a rocky beach and walked a few hundred yards to the Papa Fernandez restaurant. When I got there, it was closed and deserted. I sat down on a picnic bench, hungry and a bit disappointed. One of the boat ramp men asked me if I wanted anything. I replied that I would like to have lunch. He told me to wait a moment and walked to a nearby house. A friendly woman emerged from the house, opened the restaurant and cooked me a very nice meal of an enchilada, a chile relleno and a taco, plus a side of papas fritas. I washed it all down with a cold bottle of water (there was no beer). My impression of the place went up a bit. Would have been more if they had beer.

The tidal ranges in the northern Sea of Cortez are large. The difference between high and low tide in Bahía Willard on Saturday was 11 feet. I left the dinghy on the beach with the stern at the edge of the water during a falling tide. When I returned in an hour after eating lunch, the stern was 10 feet from the water's edge.

The stony beach at the Papa Fernandez settlement

The sail from Bahía Willard to San Felipe is just under 80nm, a 15-hour trip, so I decided I would depart the in the evening and sail through the night so that I would arrive in San Felipe in daylight. I spent the rest of Saturday repairing a big ding in the corner of port swim step.  It was tricky to replicate the original gelcoat profile. I slathered the gelcoat on thick and then spent a considerable time sanding it to conform to contours of the adjacent surfaces. I still need to put a final coat on, but it looks much better than I expected. When I'm finished, you won't notice the repair unless you look for it.

Sunset at the start of the overnight trip to San Felipe

We weighed anchor at 5:30pm and sailed into the sunset. There was no moon, but with no light pollution, the stars dimly lit the coast and sea and Mars shown brightly to the west, reflecting as a beam of light on the surface of the water. Later, I said hello to a crescent moon as it rose in the southeast.

We sailed in light-to-moderate winds most of the way to San Felipe. The sea was deserted except for one fishing boat that passed us several miles away going south. No chatter on the radio. No vessels showing up on the AIS. Nothing on the radar.

There were lots of birds, though. Gulls, pelicans and boobies either sitting in the water or flying low in the darkness. Some would circle around the boat, looking curious. One booby flew alongside me for a couple of minutes, only a few feet away, looking at me, right at eye level. S/he looked friendly and I appreciated the company.

We entered the breakwater-protected harbor of San Felipe at 10am while the wind was howling at 22 knots. I was concerned about finding the right place to anchor to accommodate the 15-foot tidal range and had to move skillfully and quickly to set the anchor where I wanted it in such conditions. We anchored at roughly high tide and I've watched the water recede, exposing sand bars and sunken boats, the rock breakwaters and pilings seeming to grow in height through the day.

I walked over the Port Captain's office, assuming it would be closed on Sunday. When I got there, there were two men working on a car. I asked them if I needed to officially check in and they didn't seem to know. They called the Port Captain who walked over from his house next door and, with quite a bit of fumbling around, instructed one of the guys on the check-in procedure. I don't think boats check in here very often. I'm one of only a few foreign vessels in the harbor and the only boat anchored out.

This is the next to last stop on my trip to Puerto Peñasco. Tomorrow I'll try to work out the logistics to prepare for hauling out. I originally intended to head to Puerto Peñasco on Tuesday and spend a week or so getting the boat ready,  but there seems to be very little dock space there. If I can't find a suitable berth, I'll have to stay here to do the prep work and then sail to Puerto Peñasco the day before my scheduled haul out. Either way, I'm going to try and move the haul out date forward and expedite the whole process.