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~ Chapter Eight ~
San Juanico to Bahia Magdalena
~ Katherine Anne Porter
Awake at the break of dawn I noticed that the tide had risen quite a bit from where it was when I went to sleep the night before. The water lapped about 15 feet from my feet and provided the incentive I needed to get up off the beach and to take on the day. I had accidentally left my fifth gasoline can at Camacho's the day before and knew I had to make one more walk into town before I could shove off.
Camacho asked me if I had seen my buddy Greg this morning...a friend I often surf with in Scorpion Bay. I said I didn't even know he was in town! Camacho said that he ran into Greg earlier that morning as he was getting gas for his rental car, before heading back to Loreto airport 180 miles away. He had informed Greg that I was in town and that I had arrived by panga. Not knowing that I had this adventure planned, Greg probably thought Camacho was talking about some other Carlos, and left San Juanico before I had a chance to track him down. This was definitely my loss because Greg Stanton is, without question, the funniest human being on the planet Earth. I realized that if I had called Greg before I left Los Angeles we could have planned a rendezvous.
I swam out to the boat, got things organized, and started motoring along the empty sand beaches south of San Juanico. Today's destination and gas stop was tentatively planned for the seaside town of Puerto Lopez Mateos, tucked inside the northern end of Magdalena Bay. I was pretty sure I could get gas at the fish camp on the south end of town, if I could get in the bay entrance past the shoals.
As I motored past the first of two entrances to Mag Bay prior to reaching Lopes Mateos I noticed that the shoals at the mouth of this first entry point were to choppy and shallow and would not accommodate any boat traffic in or out. I only hoped the next two entrances would be deeper and more accommodating. They were not.
The second entrance to Mag Bay looked just an ominous as the first. Shallow choppy water the entire width of the shoal with no deep channel to enter the bay. I began to realize the likelihood that the next entrance to the bay, which was my planned fuel stop, would also be inaccessible. But I needed gas and I did not know if I had enough fuel to make it to San Carlos, another 100 miles south.
I continued traveling south, hoping that the shoal directly west of Lopez Mateos would be navigable. My heart sank as I approached this final entrance to northern Mag Bay. If anything this entrance to the Bay was even worse than the last two with very choppy waters lapping over a very shallow sand reef. There was no way I could get my boat through the pass to get in for gas. Time for Plan B. The problem with Plan B is that I didn't have one. I would have to create it...and fast.
Heading south along the shore I realized that Santa Maria Bay was my next logical port. It was a large protected bay and well known as a good place to drop the hook on the way up or down the Baja coast. There was a couple of options for gasoline there, a destination surf resort at Punta Hughes and a fish camp tucked into an estuary at the northeast end of Santa Maria Bay. Worst case I could always head into San Carlos, another 20 miles further.
There were dozens of miles of completely empty beaches between the Lopez Mateos area and Santa Maria Bay. The weather was typical Baja...warm and clear. The swells had dropped off and the water was as glassy as a lake. The ocean temperature was now approaching 80 degrees. Twice I saw large turtles floating near the surface and twice they dove under as I approached. Even though these guys are protected by law they seem to know that some fishermen still can't resist taking home a fresh tortuga.
Rounding the point north of Santa Maria Bay the scope of this beautiful cove hit me...it was huge! It seemed like it took me forever to head into the most protected corner of the bay in search of gasoline. I slowed down and then motored close to the surf camp at Punta Hughes for a quick look. I had run into Kevin, the guy who runs the camp, several times in Baja as well as on the Internet. He has been running surf and kayak trips into Punta Hughes for quite a few years now and people who make the trek always seems to leave happy. But the camp was empty today so I continued to head into the bay to try my luck for gasoline at the fish camp.
As I approached the corner of the bay I realized the fish camp was inside the estuary and that it was not accessible at this time because of the low tide. I noted four yachts at anchor in this protected corner of the bay, including a small sailboat whose crew I would run into again in La Paz a week or so later. I could have easily dropped anchor here and made new friends, but the thought of my gas tank being on fumes nagged at me and I decided to head around the corner and into Mag Bay to find some fuel before it got dark.
The water in the bay was extremely calm and the small fishing village of Puerto Magdalena had pangas on the beach. After a few inquiries I nailed down a supply of 100 liters (25 gallons) of gas...at a cost of $5.00 per gallon. Considering their cost was about $2.70 per gallon and they were located some distance from the nearest Pemex station, I felt the price was a bit high but fair. Besides, I really didn't have much of a choice if I wanted to fill up before dark. After getting gas I tracked down a very amiable Port Captain who was happy to complete my papers, take my $32, and stamp my port documents for an official entrance and departure. Looking at his log book I realized that he hadn't had another boat check in with him since February! He put the money in his wallet and wished me "buenas suerte" on my trip.
The sun had already set and I hopped back in the boat to find a quiet cove before it got completely dark. I found a protected beach about a mile south of the village, dropped anchor, and set up my bed. While looking for a fresh T-shirt to sleep in I found a cassette tape from my daughter Tracy and a card from my wife. It was appropriate that the card was a Halloween card and tonight was October 31st. The moon was full, the water was like a mirror and I settled into my sleeping bag while I listened to the cassette my daughter had put together. I listened as she quoted a long list of "fun things to do in an elevator". She had me laughing hysterically for over half an hour! If anybody down the beach heard me they would have surely thought I was bonkers. Before long I turned off the tape, stared at the bright moon inspecting the craters, and then drifted off to sleep.