Oh Swell

We left Puerto Ballanda at Isla Carmen on Tuesday headed for El Refugio. Unfortunately, our stay at El Refugio was unexpectedly short.

Isla Carmen is a long narrow island about 20 miles long, which is wider at the top of the island and narrows as you go south. Puerto Ballandra is on the west side of the island, and El Refugio is on the north side of the island right before you would round the northeast tip of the island. It is about 10 miles between the two anchorages.

Isla Carmen is part of the park system here in the Sea of Cortez, but a lot of the island is privately owned. There is a hunting lodge on the island that owns a big chunk of the land where they hunt big horn sheep. So, you can anchor, explore the waters and hang on the beaches, but you cannot go into the interior of the island. I really wouldn’t want a hunter mistaking me for a sheep!

El Refugio is also known as V-Cove, because of its V shape. Each side of the V is lined with rocky cliffs. Over time, the water has eroded the cliffs leaving unusual rock formations and sea caves. At the point of the V is a really lovely sand beach. So, as soon as we dropped anchor, we got in the dinghy to go exploring.

First on our agenda was to go find the sea caves. They were amazing. The caves are big enough for you to take the dinghy in, and the rocky interior was lined with all different colors of striations in the rock and unusual texture where the water had eroded it away. Because this side of the V is protected from the winds this time of year, the water was absolutely still, making the visibility in the water crystal clear. And, with where the sun was at this time of day, the blue turquoise waters in the cave almost glowed. Really cool!

After checking out the sea caves we were ready to jump in the water. There are so many spots where the large boulders from the cliffs have fallen into the water creating some great snorkel spots. So, we spent a couple of hours chasing fish around. And, at one point fish were chasing Mike! I was snorkeling on the surface and Mike swam down to check out something below. A large school of fish (not sure what kind, probably some kind of jack) swam up right behind him. When he stopped, they stopped. When he swam, they followed him. He didn’t notice what was going on behind him, and I was trying not to laugh through my snorkel. Finally, he turned around surprised by the fish, and they all just kind of stopped and stared at him. Apparently these guys were not afraid of people. Just curious, I guess.

Once our fingers started to prune a little too much, we got back in the dinghy to check out the beach. What a lovely beach! The water was so blue and clear and the sand was incredibly soft. It was at this point that I think I decided that V-Cove must be on my top five places in the Sea. Just as I was thinking how awesome this place was, Mike yelled at me to look over at the hills just off the beach. There were big horn sheep!

I’ve never seen big horn sheep before. They reminded me more of a goat than a sheep. We saw several females (no horns) scrambling up the rocky hillside. They weren’t very far away and were definitely keeping an eye on us. Then just to the sand dune to our right, several males with their distinctive big round horns appeared. They must come down to the beaches frequently, because we saw a lot of tracks in the sand. We watched them for a while until they decided to head over the hill.

We got to experience another beautiful sunset and then settled in for the night. There wasn’t much wind and it was pretty still out. But, that all changed a few hours later. What little wind we had was coming from the south, as is typical this time of year. When you are anchored with just a bow anchor, your bow is going to face the direction of the wind. (The boat swings if the wind changes.) So, the wind was not an issue. Around 3 am, the boat started to roll a bit. What I mean by roll is that it rocks side to side, not front to back, like a teeter totter. A little rocking isn’t a problem, a lot of rocking can be uncomfortable. We’ve been in a lot of rolly anchorages. If it gets really rolly, I have a hard time sleeping. Mike can sleep through almost anything.

So, I was trying to relax and ignore the rolling, but it steadily got worse, to the point where it woke Mike up. By 4 am we were rolling so bad that things were flying around in the boat! When we are sailing, we secure everything down so nothing can fly off a counter top, for example. But, at anchorage, we have cups, sunglasses, books, ipads, etc. lying around. Now we had a bunch of stuff lying on the floor!

Our real concern was our dinghy. We had pulled the dinghy out of the water, but just tied it against the toe rail rather than haul it on deck. We were rolling to such a degree that the dinghy was almost hitting the water when we rolled that direction! Mike and I were both out on deck by this point holding on trying to keep our balance as the boat shifted probably a good 15-20 degrees in each direction. Not a slight roll. What we could see was a really large swell wrapping around the eastern point of the anchorage and hitting us direction on the beam! Swell isn’t as much of a big deal when it is from the same direction as the wind and you take it on the bow, but hitting us on the beam was creating the severe roll.

Unfortunately, we had to make the decision to pull up the anchor at 4 am and get the heck out of there. There was a nice full moon out which helped us a bit in getting out of the anchorage. We got away from the anchorage and started looking for the closest anchorage that would be protected from this large easterly swell. The closest place was Isla Coronados, about 2.5 hrs away. So, that’s where we were headed. It was certainly the largest swell we’ve seen since we left the Pacific side, and we have no idea where it came from. Our best guess is that there must have been a large storm on the mainland Mexican coast that created the swell that traveled across the Sea.

Before the roll…

We anchored at Isla Coronados after sunrise and tried to get a little sleep. After having a late breakfast, we decided to go ahead and make our way to our next destination – La Ramada, just north of Caleta San Juanico. There was still some swell, but we were able to sail the entire way from Isla Coronados to La Ramada and anchored in another beautiful spot. But, more on that next time!


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