Considering a sailing adventure to Mexico? Just look at how engrossed that guy is in the book! Grab a copy of the Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico, and you too can find yourself sitting on a Mexican dock with an oversized (but very attractive) hat.

Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico


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Entries in anchor (5)


balandra, home of the ice cream cart-barge

One thing that makes the La Paz, Baja, Mexico area pretty cool is that there are a lot of neat places nearby. Hailing from San Diego, the closest “cool place to go anchor for the weekend” was 80 miles away to windward, at Santa Catalina Island. And honestly you couldn’t even anchor there as the primary destinations have moorings installed. Here in the sailing Mecca of La Paz however, there are several islands, many large bays, and countless smaller coves within a few hours. Further destinations are merely another hour or two away beyond that, and so the story goes for hundreds of miles up Baja’s interior peninsula.

Balandra isn’t the closest stop north of La Paz, but it’s the most popular. On a busy weekend you’ll have a dozen boats in the cove, half of which are local charters letting their sunburned gringo clients zip around on suped-up tenders and drink margaritas. And yes, that’s “busy” for here.

Though we had plans to head to Espiritu Santo Island, a student in Cora’s Mexican preschool we have her enrolled in gave us an invite to a birthday party on the beach in Balandra. We’d been here before for a single night when coming in from Bahia Los Muertos, and this time we spent three days and two nights anchored in this beautiful cove. 

We had some friends on Classy Lady II that showed up as well with their five year old daughter Solis. They sold their last sailboat, bought a powerboat, and are looking to build a new sailboat. If you think we have an interesting story, trust me, these guys have us beat hands down.

There are really two aspects to Balandra: as an anchorage and as a beach.

As an anchorage it is relatively straight forward although first time people in the La Paz area will likely be spooked by the Los Coromuelas that kick up around sun down, howling wind out of the south west until ten the next morning. There are also crappy little flies that don’t bite but otherwise manage to annoy the hell out of you as they land on your face, neck, ears, and every other square inch of skin. Happily, these odd insects don’t seem to enter the cabin all that frequently and don’t hang out after sun down. Their domain is the uncovered pitch heat: probably where you’ll spend the least amount of time.

The beach of Balandra, or Playa de Balandra, is the real gem of this bay. It’s weird to look two hundred yards out and see people standing in waist high seas but that’s how this place works. The water is crystal clear, fish zip around by your feet, there is no surf, and for hundreds of yards the water is so shallow and calm that even the most timid beach goer finds themselves happily flapping around in 80 degree (f) water. Also, the bugs that are present in the anchorage are mysteriously absent here.

The ice cream man has his little cart that he pushes with high volume wheels: not only do they handle the sand well, but in deeper water the whole thing floats so he can push it along like a barge. Like a lot of Mexico, it’s the strange blessing and curse of stunted economic development that allows beaches like this to be accessible to the average citizen and not have a resort built right on the sand. Charlotte and I frequently walk around and shake our heads saying, "Imagine what this place would look like if it was in the States." I sincerely hope that as Mexico continues developing and growing as an economy it can preserve locations like Balandra: the natural beauty around here is quite literally, priceless. 


pit stop in mazatlan

On approach to Mazatlan, five miles out.We were offshore motoring in glass conditions offshore of the Mexican mainland and needed to make the decision: make a left towards Baja ~300 miles away with our 30 gallons of fuel onboard, or head into Mazatlan for fuel and water.

The Sea of Cortez usually has two wind states: mirror flat or howling out of the north west. So when you want to go north west (our direction) you either have to beat to windward (which sucks) or wait for the glass and motor across. I'm bummed we stopped but at the same time it will be nice to arrive in Baja with our senses and not be bone dry in water and fuel needing to race into a marina.

Rebel Heart is the top of the three sailboats there on the top right.

We dropped the hook in Mazatlan's "old port" municipal anchorage. It's a rather packed in anchorage and there are commercial vessels that need to get in and out (not just through the main channel) so I spent an extra few minutes of motoring around to pick a spot that hopefully wouldn't have a barge howling at us in the wee hours of the morning because we were blocking its path.

Cora and I split from the boat early to drop off laundry and reconnoiter. It's a military strategy that I find works equally well in the yachting world: at a new landfall, send an advance party out to conduct a basic survey and understand the lay of the land before you make a lot of decisions. 

Cora, at the El Faro lighthouse in Mazatlan. Mazatlan apparently boasts the world's second highest lighthouse and my awesome little 2 3/4 year old daughter walked the entire way up by herself, and back down again, thank you very much. So if you ever feel winded going up there just realize a toddler did it with less fuss: that's motivation ladies and gentlemen.

We're planning on leaving Friday, although we were also planning on being in the middle of the Sea of Cortez today. Tomorrow we're meeting up with some friends to go check out Mazatlan's aquarium


double check that ground tackle

I'd like to sit here and judge this sailor for his lack of seamanship which caused his boat to end up on the rocky beach, getting ripped to shreds by pounding swell before the port captain ordered a backhoe to come and break it apart and haul it to the dump. Indeed, there are some basic steps that should have been followed that were not, but a seamanship is about getting all the steps right all the time and there are an awful lot of steps. 

Regardless, seeing the boat on the beach as the seas gently ripped it apart was chilling. Seeing him on the beach, selling his worldly possessions so he could scrape up enough money to leave town was even harder. 

Double check that ground tackle. Don't leave anything to chance. If the engine packs in or the head stops working you won't be having a lot of fun, but if you can't stop the boat and keep it stopped that's a whole different ball game.



got the new anchor rode

Well roughly one thousand dollars later we're the proud owners of 275' of 5/16 G4 Acco chain. Although the "three hundred feet of chain" rule is a good one to follow, a half drum ships out in 275' so there you go. We got ours from Defender.

I looped it out in ten foot sections and spray painted at the ends. The idea being that if you're in 30 feet of water and want to pay out 180 feet of chain you'll watch 18 sections of painted links go by. Actually, you'll watch 15 go by then rig the 30' nylon snubber, then watch another 3 painted sections go by. 

Of course when I went to shake the spraypaint can the nozzle flew into the water and sunk, so I had to get the paint out by jamming a toothpick into the little receiver. Needless to say my shoes, legs, shorts, and arms have little speckles of orange safety paint.

If you order this much chain, realize that you will spend a lot to ship it: probably as much as 30% of the cost of the chain itself. Also, it will show up on a semi and you will need a way to get it from the elevated position of the semi's bed to a dolly that you can haul it away with. No dice on just rolling it out as it will crack whatever asphalt or pavement it would fall on. The stuff is heavy and weighs in at over 300 pounds. 

The next time we're on the hook we'll sleep much better knowing that we have a big ass anchor secured by a big ass shackle to a big ass chain. Oh, and don't forget some seizing wire to make sure the shackle bolt doesn't come undone. I'm paranoid so I run two different ones. It's not very common for a shackle to fail but it is extremely common for a shackle bolt to wiggle its way loose


our new manson supreme anchor

Today was new anchor day. The Manson Supreme 60 pound beast is not little. In fact, it's huge. It's so big that everyone who sees it says "god damn that's big anchor". When hauling it by hand, you earn it. 

I debated between the Rocna and Manson, and both seem to get stellar remarks from everyone, the difference being that the Manson is roughly half the cost. I got ours from Defender. Our former CQR anchor will be making its way south on the Baja Haha with our friends on their trip through Mexico and across the Pacific towards France.

The 5/16 chain rode however, is not in such good shape. In fact, it's completely wrecked. It took a good hour of hammering to loosen the mess up and get it out of the forecastle, and upon examination there are links that are roughly half the diameter of their counterparts. 

The old expression of "a chain is only as strong as its weakest link" is running around in my head. Not only could a popped link cause the boat to get wrecked, but we could also lose the beautiful new anchor: simply not acceptable.

Of course, chain is not cheap. Roughly $1000 for a half drum of 5/16th high-test, which comes out to 275' feet. Still, that's less than half the cost that I was quoted at San Diego Marine Exchange; a rare example of the Internet soundly beating out my local marine supplier.

In the mean time, I'm getting some second opinions on the chain to just to make sure that indeed it's unsafe and needs to be craigslisted. I'll snip off a good section and fasten the remainder to some nylon to make a temporary rode until I can find an extra grand in my pants to spend on some chain.

The forecastle can also be cleaned out. There has to be at least a shovel full of rust and crap in there, which of course I'll need to scoop out with a tea spoon sized instrument given the lack of access.

Oh well. The fuel tank cleaning went so smoothly, it's only fitting that I should run into a land mine project.