The “Southern Crossing”

Apr 05, 2009| 0 Comment

The “Southern Crossing” — To The First Mate, the very name sounds romantic and exciting, but to The First Mate’s disappointment, there is no romantic connection to the words. She finds out that there is also a “Northern Crossing” and together the two are, in boaters’ parlance, a simple way to differentiate the major routes cruisers take to traverse the Sea of Cortez from one coast to the other. Romantic connection or not, the crossings are still significant, especially the Southern Crossing which can run anywhere from 150 to 260nm depending upon where one starts and where one intends to make landfall. “Don”, the weatherman who comes on single side band radio at 0815, always mentions the winds in this crossing. They can be nasty, and coupled with a turbulent sea caused by the waters of the Pacific and those of the Sea of Cortez converging, the trip across can be an unpleasant adventure.

We are currently spending several days traveling from Puerto Vallarta to La Paz, located near the southern end of the Baja Peninsula. This is a journey of about 430nm, and more than half of it is crossing the southern end of the Sea of Cortez. We are now anchored at Isla Isabela, not far off the mainland coast, about 100nm north of Puerto Vallarta. Our next leg is 250nm across the Sea of Cortez to Ensenada de los Muertos on the Baja Peninsula side. Heading generally northwest, we will be making a “Southern Crossing”. This will entail a double overnighter for this sailing duo.

The First Mate does not claim to be an old hand at this, but she did make the crossing last January when we sailed from Los Cabos on the Baja side to Mazatlan on the mainland side. What she disliked about that crossing was not the winds, which were the usual mixed bag of good, bad and ugly. It was the heavy cross-wise rolling seas. She has discovered that she can run straight into heavy seas all day long with little ill effect, but don’t put her in mixed-up cross-wise seas. That “Southern Crossing” run was approximately 160nm, and for a good deal of that 160nm, she felt very unwell due to those cross-wise, lumpy, miserable seas. She did not feel so bad that she could not stand her watches, but she was bad enough that even the thought of cooking was out of the question. Thankfully, The Captain can fend for himself at such times, and fortunately, she is always prepared with easy meal alternatives. The Captain says that he always has a Plan B in mind when Plan A fails or alters. Well, so does The First Mate when it comes to what comes out or will come out of the galley.

With resigned acceptance, The First Mate faces another Southern Crossing. It is after all the way to get Avante to La Paz so we can begin our exploration of the Sea of Cortez. She, however, carefully keeps nurturing a wispy thread of optimism. The seas cannot always be up and running cross-wise, can they?

After our hike on Isla Isabela to see frigates and blue-footed boobies, we return to Avante. The Captain is eager to pull anchor and go, but The First Mate will hear none of that. It is hot, and if we are going to spend two nights at sea, she is going to start out with a clean body, refreshed from head to foot. She is going to take a quick swim, a shower and then we can go. He is not too happy with the delay, but seeing her so determined, he joins in the swim and shower. The promised meal after we are under way helps, too.

Friday, April 3rd – At 1010, we raise anchor and depart. It is bright, sunny and still. We motor out of the bay, let out the fishing line, and … zing! We have a fish. The Captain reels in a nice small bonito. Within 45 minutes of lifting anchor, a freshly cooked bonito is served for lunch. The First Mate had promised a meal as soon as we were under way. It pays to listen to her sometimes! Here her Plan A for lunch (canned tuna) was happily changed to Plan B (sautéed fresh-caught bonito with sliced tomatoes and avocado).


Just as lunch is finished, that line zings out again. This time our first Dorado is reeled in. This fish is so pretty with its green and yellow coloring that The First Mate is saddened to see it dispatched, but it is going to make a great offshore dinner tonight. Dorado (also known as mahi mahi) is a highly sought after fish, and we have been eager to catch our first one. The First Mate happily heads to her cookbooks to decide how she is going to cook it for tonight.


In the early afternoon, winds pick up to 10 knots from the west. We are able to raise sail and tack northwest for several hours. As we sail further from land, the seas become more and more lumpy and confused. “Yuck,” thinks The First Mate. Grabbing a ginger ale, a bowl of pita chips, a cover up and some deck pillows, she heads to the stern of the boat, to her favorite seat. Here she can sit in the breeze facing the way we are going, watch the horizon and hope for the best. By 1700, she knows there is going to be no Dorado cooked by her for dinner. The Dorado is left to continue freezing on ice, and The Captain reheats leftovers from last night’s dinner. She cannot cook it, but she makes herself eat it because not eating and letting one’s blood sugar run low can make matters worse.

As with the January crossing we did, our winds are fitful. Never very strong and never lasting very long. We sailed some, motored more – all of it in lumpy seas. And all of it keeping The First Mate just on the edge. The Captain is not pleased that she did not take her seasick pills, but how was she to know the seas were going to be like this? There is a complication with the pills, and it is four-fold.

  1. She cannot take them daily like one does with vitamins.
  2. They make her very sleepy and even with NoDoz to counteract the effect, she still feels like a zombie under their influence.
  3. Who can predict when lumpy seas are going to occur?
  4. One must start taking the pills several hours before one anticipates being in a situation where one might get sick.

How can one plan ahead like that when one cannot foresee when seas are going to be lumpy? And who wants to willingly put oneself into a zombie state unless there is definitely an adequate reason? It is only certain kind of seas that affect her. Not all seas, fortunately, or she and Avante would not still be sailing forth.

Sunday, April 5th – The world keeps spinning, and somehow one day rotates around to two days and two nights. With the generally light and fluky winds, we were in no hurry. In fact, we had to slow down for a while, so we could enter the anchorage after dawn. By 0750, we are anchored in Bahia Los Muertos. We have completed our second Southern Crossing. Bahia Los Muertos translated means Bay of the Dead-men. “How appropriate,” thinks The First Mate, for she feels pretty close to that. Our guidebooks talk about giant anchors being dropped and left in the bay. These giant anchors are called dead-men or muertos. No one has ever found one of these huge anchors in the bay, but they still give their name to the bay. After a good morning’s nap in the calm bay, The First Mate is happy to claim that she can no longer be found among the “muertos” either. That evening, Dorado is festively served for dinner.


The desert meet the sea here in Bahia Los Muertos, but an upscale real estate development appears to be trying to impose its presence.


Ahead of us are 5 weeks of cruising the Sea of Cortez with its many islands and isolated anchorages all back dropped by the jagged ridges and multi-colored layers of the impressive Sierra Giganta mountain range which forms the spine of the Baja peninsula. Cruising days and Savoring days are in the schedule, and both The Captain and The First Mate are eager to start.

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