“Does anyone think it’s ironic that we’re going to wait out a norther in a place called Muertos?”, I asked smugly as we review our travel plans and weather routing back to the Sea of Cortez. Norther refers to the northern origin of higher wind patterns that in this case were forecasted to hit speeds of mid-20 some odd kts for a few days, necessitating being in a protected port such as Bahia de Los Muertos. Now as I spend a third day in this anchorage with Tulum V rolling side to side, yet again listening to the wind generator howl, I believe less in the irony of the anchorage name and more so in the logical matter of timing…or is this place truly cursed for us? Two out of three times we’ve been here we’ve had adverse weather roll in on Day 2 and when the wind wasn’t howling, we were rocking beam to beam making it challenging to sleep. Muertos has been our most “rolly” anchorage where you sometimes wish you were underway rather than a sitting duck bobbing on the surface. The other time however, was just beautiful…Timing is everything.
Every anchorage’s review is entirely subjective. One boat’s heaven is another’s hell. Beyond personal preference for what makes the perfect anchorage are a number of other factors beyond your control: How was the weather and seastate? What were the conditions under which you stopped there? What was your experience like with the local folks? Did your neighbor anchor too close? – etc. etc. Muertos is a great anchorage. A huge open bay with a smooth sloping bottom that is easy to anchor in night or day (done both), beautiful sandy beach, great hike to the chapel for views of the bay, and a wonderful restaurant complete with a pool and waterslide, great food, accommodating staff and a huge model train set – I highly recommend the stop. Despite the name, it does not come from being a “deadly” anchorage or because someone died here, but for the train axels buried here in the 1920s that served as dead-man anchors or “muertos” securing barges that transported silver from the mines.
As we pull in for the third time, this anchorage represents a return to the point we left Baja three months ago and therefore, somewhat of a milestone for us. We pull in just before sunset to see some familiar boats with whom we’ve crossed paths before, after beautiful glassy seas with light winds allowed for easy transit from Bahia Los Frailes. I look at the familiar coastline welcoming me back when suddenly my eyes scan over to the place where my kids fell asleep last Thanksgiving which we have now dubbed “The Thanksgiving to top all Thanksgivings”. Nope, it wasn’t the great restaurant I mentioned earlier nor resort chairs under a quaint beach palapa, it was the top of the panga launch ramp. We all have our proud “mother of the year” moments – I challenge you to top this one.
The first time we anchored, we expected weather to roll in, but did not anticipate the rolling side to side. We had heard about a great Thanksgiving dinner served at The Restaurante Centro De Trenes at the Gran Sueno resort that fellow cruisers planned to go to and thought it sounded like a great way to spend the kids first Thanksgiving away from home. We barely slept the first night due to the rolling and had a spa and art day to divert attention from the rain and wind on the second day. Chad’s homemade water collection system filled ¼ tank of water due to all the precipitation. The next day we awoke to beautiful skies cleared out from the storm – Thanksgiving was off to a great start.
Quincy got to run on shore and we decided to try out this restaurant that we had heard so much about. It did not disappoint – blossoming up in the middle of nowhere was this unexpected beautiful tropical oasis. The restaurant was just what we needed after being cooped up on a rolling boat while waiting out winter weather. The kids swam as we sipped margaritas and ate great food that for the first time in a while, we didn’t have to prepare – awesome. We went back to the boat to feed Quincy and change into nicer clothes before dinner and returned through an easy surfline in time for our Thanksgiving dinner. Dinner was great – we had a huge table with lots of new friends, the Wi-Fi server which had been wiped out after the last storm was restored and we were able to get messages off to family and friends, they even had football games playing on large screen TVs– all was good until we tried to return to our boat.
I had read stories of cruisers not being able to return to their boats due to powerful surf before, but thought – no way would I ever experience a situation that would prevent me from returning to my boat, my home. If the surfline is that strong, why would you ride it into shore in the first place? Suck it up, get a little wet as you push through the surfline and get back home…right? Oh how wrong I was. We sat for a good 45 minutes watching the surfline in the dark with other cruisers in similar situations all attempting to convince ourselves that we could get our dinghys through the wall of repeated sets of thundering surf until reality set in. We were stuck. All courses of action were considered from sleeping on the beach until the surf lays down to seeing if we could get a room at the resort. One constant through it all was the realization that we were regrettably leaving our dinghy on the beach overnight, something we swore we would never do. On this dark evening, with kids or even without, there was no other choice.
Of the group, we had two dinghy’s moored beyond the surfline and a plan to get us (dogs, kids, everyone) back to our boats – began to materialize. One cruiser who was a strong swimmer would swim out to his dinghy and meet us over at the panga launch ramp on the far end of the bay and shuttle us all to where we needed to go. We would catch a ride from Christian, the kind manager of the restaurant who benevolently offered to drive us to the ramp at the other side of the bay while he still had a packed restaurant. We watched as our would-be Uber dinghy driver swam out to the dinghy and started across the bay while we – a motley crew of 5 adults, 2 kids and 2 dogs – loaded up into a large passenger van and headed on the rugged dirt road towards our rendezvous point – I mentioned it had rained all day yesterday, right? The kids, although tired and longing for their beds, were comforted to be around their new friend Ali, the Mexican mutt belonging to cruiser friends, during their adventurous ride through the desert. We arrive to a bustling scene of boat trailers loading panga after panga in the dark. Crew trying to match up pangas with their trailers and us trying to locate the tiny light of an unexpected dinghy interrupting this well-orchestrated operation. Christian stayed with us and provided additional light and allowed the girls to rest inside the van. We finally locate the dim light of our rescue dinghy and he took his wife and another cruiser back to his dinghy (also moored beyond the surfline) while we waited for the return trip. Round one complete. While awaiting the return of our two dinghy drivers, the kids fell asleep at the top of the dinghy ramp on top of a kind cruiser’s shawl protected by the ever-devoted Ali. At this point I begin to draft my “Mother of the Year” acceptance speech – First Thanksgiving away from family and my kids are asleep in their party dresses at the top of a dinghy launch ramp in the middle of the desert on a nearly moonless night in Mexico awaiting a no doubt wet and rocky trip back to the boat well beyond their bedtime – nice. We eventually locate the two tiny white lights of our shuttles home, load up in choppy surf and make it back to a very rolly Tulum V and a very concerned guard dog. So good to be back onboard…yet there is this sickening feeling knowing that our dinghy, our “car”, is stuck on the beach until tomorrow morning…we hope.
We jump out of bed at dawn like kids on Christmas morning only instead of presents, we’re hoping to spot our dinghy on the beach. Low and behold – we spot it through our binos with the outboard engine still attached – thank you! We wait for a few minutes to hail our new Uber dinhgy driver (5 stars just isn’t enough for what he did for us) who agreed to take Chad and I back to shore early this morning for operation dinghy retrieval. He promptly picks us up and shuttles us over towards the beach and we swim to shore through a much better, but still spirited surfline. Our dinghy looks untouched and unaffected by her solitude– we missed you girl. We time the surf and ease her back in the water hoping for a puttering engine on the first try. No dice, the engine doesn’t start, the surf gets the best of us and we are suddenly soaked, sitting in a floating bathtub with all sorts of pleasantries being exchanged. With a brief tow out beyond the surfline, some faith and perhaps a little pixie dust, our tempermental engine started up and we were enroute back to Tulum V – bailing the whole way of course. By 9am we were underway bound for Caleta Partida at the beautiful islands just outside La Paz – an easy day hop – just what we needed.
We all have our stupid boat tricks (thank you S/V Follow You Follow Me for sharing), some are more complex and some so simple – how did you miss that!?!?!?! We swore we NEVER would leave our dinghy ashore, always took precautions to keep the bow into the surfline so we would NEVER swamp the dinghy, and with rare exception, would NEVER have to navigate a surfline after dark. While we consider ourselves to be cautious, conservative cruisers, we’re forced to take calculated risks out here and sometimes a bit less calculated when the time calls for it. As newer cruisers, we’ve had more than our share of stupid boat tricks and are pretty open with sharing in hopes that you don’t make the same. The reality is no matter how many precautions you take, you still may find yourself vulnerable to the wrath of Mother Nature, multiple systems and parts that seem to malfunction when you need them most, and of course…human nature. We’ve pretty much thrown NEVER out of our vocabulary because life is just unpredictable. It’s all too easy to call this place cursed, but the reality is we chose to come this direction during two turbulent seasons when the weather patterns were changing at the junction of the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Ocean. The first time described above, we were fortunate to have generosity shared by locals and fellow cruisers. We have deployed the flopper stopper more than once since this visit to limit the rolling, carry an extra-long cable lock on the dinghy just in case we need to lock her up and limit our time on beaches where we have to launch our dinghy through any sort of surfline.
This time in Muertos we waited out weather with plenty to do – science and art projects, movies, and spa day at sea (clearly a Muertos must). When the wind and surf died down and all 5 crew were able to make it to shore, we were once again welcomed by Christian into our beloved restaurant although this time during a very different state of the world. He wore a mask and kindly directed us to a large hand sanitizer pump and we were served food by waiters wearing latex gloves. We sat outside at our usual table so we could see the girls in the pool and benefit from the open air environment. Nothing is fool proof for this virus, but we appreciate the conscientiousness of the staff and continue taking our same precautions. As we reap the benefits of a strong WIFI signal to catch up with the world, we look around and see only one other table seated. We no doubt know that this place like so many others is taking a hit in light of COVID-19’s impact on travel and tourism and hope they make it through. After lunch and wandering through the soft white sandy beach, we swim the dinghy out just beyond the little baby surfline and were on our way back to Tulum V. I conclude that there is no curse, only timing. Muertos a great anchorage that we will likely hit again next season before crossing to mainland Mexico. We’ll see if we can get the timing right and enjoy ourselves without stupid boat tricks and unnecessary adventures.