Sunday, October 23, 2011

Water, Water, Everywhere – the “Best” of Loreto!

I have a confession to make – I am not much of a swimmer, in fact I think I could be best described as a “sinker” instead.  So it was from this perspective that I decided to check out the first annual open water swimming race from Picazon to Coronado Island recently.  For those of you less familiar with the Loreto area, but who have been reading this Blog, the name Picazon may be familiar because I have written about it before (“In the La Picazon” May, 2009).  This is one of my favourite spots near Loreto, La Picazon is a beachfront restaurant incorporated into the home of the owners Alejandro & Imelda, located about 10 km north of town across from Coronado Island.

The swimmers met the night before to receive instructions and “carbo-load” with a pasta dinner that the organizers provided, courtesy of Pedro at Porto Bello Restaurant in Puerto Escondido.  Saturday morning was clear and sunny, as usual, and fortunately very calm when the participants and their supporters assembled at La Picazon before the race.  Following final registrations and a “warm-up” session on the beach, the 28 swimmers took to the water about 8:30 am.

I gather the expectation was to swim from point “A”, the beach at Picazon, directly across to point “B”, the white sand beach on Coronado, in a more or less straight line.  However, once the swimmers were well out into the 3 mile wide channel, they were pushed north by strong currents caused by the sea conditions associated with a recent storm hundreds of miles south of here.  By halfway many swimmers had been pushed north of the island and some had to be helped back on course by some of the escort boats accompanying them.

The first swimmer arrived at Coronado in the impressive time of 1 hour 22 minutes and more than half the field (water?) finished within the next hour.  As a point of interest to those not familiar with open water swimming, the field (there should be a better word in this case) of swimmers were about equally divided between those who swam with and without fins, with the “finned” swimmers having a distinct “mechanical”  advantage.   By about 11:30 boats began to return the swimmers from Coronado back to the beach at Picazon where a good sized crowd of supporters and the curious had gathered to welcome and congratulate them on successfully completing the crossing. 

Alejandro and Imelda provided a special “fast food” menu with self-service to accommodate the large number of hungry people and soon every available seat, including some temporary beachside tables under awnings, were filled with people animatedly talking about the swim that had just taken place and listening to stories shared by the participants. 

Eventually the organizers began the award presentations, recognizing each individual swimmer in the order that they finished, and presenting them with a medallion commemorating the event.  This lead to a joyous celebration and I was struck by the obvious camaraderie among all the participants, sharing in each other’s success, regardless of where they each had finished. 

The swimmers had come from near and far to join in this inaugural event; about 1/3 from in and around Loreto, representing both the local and ex-pat communities.  I met several from Loreto Bay as well, including Kevin, a Homeowner, and his friend Lynn, both from California who were experienced tri-athletes and had made this trip to Loreto specifically to take part in the race.  All told, about 1/4 came from La Paz and about the same numbers from the Mainland, one of the female swimmers was visiting Loreto from London England, saw the Poster and joined the swim  – an impressive turnout of exceptional athletes for the first such competition, one that promises to become an annual event!

Continuing the “water” theme of this week’s posting, I also had the opportunity to experience one of my favourite pastimes here in Loreto – a chance to get ON the water for a half day cruise on the Sea of Cortez.  I was contacted recently by a regular reader of this Blog, Jon Riksford, who introduced me to his new Sailboat Charter service based from the marina at Puerto Escondido, 10 km south of Loreto Bay.  Jon has been operating a successful Charter business in San Diego ( for a number of years and first visited Loreto a couple of years ago, when he realized that this would be a perfect location to operate a branch of his sailing operation.

He began by bringing  Jambo Deux, a 47 ½ foot Beneteau sailboat from San Diego around the Baja peninsula, stopping in Cabo and La Paz before establishing his home port in Puerto Escondido last winter.  For the past six months he has gone through the demanding process of acquiring all the necessary documentation and permits to comply with the Mexican regulations governing such charter operations and becoming a qualified professional Skipper in Mexico.

Jon generously invited me out for a half day cruise and encouraged me to bring some Guests along for the ride, as his boat can comfortably carry 8 – 10 passengers.  So earlier this week I was joined by Dar and Ed and we met Jon at his Charter office near the main dock at Escondido mid-morning.  Tied up at the end of the dock we first saw Jambo Deux resting against the beautiful backdrop of the “Hidden Harbour”.  Jon has a permanent moorage in the harbour, but usually can have the boat on the dock when he has a charter booked, making boarding the boat a simpler and landlubber friendly procedure.

After we stowed our bags of lunch provisions, cold drinks and other odds and ends, Jon gave us a brief tour of the spacious accommodations below decks of this beautiful boat, including all important (but simple) operating instructions for the two “heads” or on-board washrooms.  There are three staterooms, one forward in the bow of the boat and two aft, side by side below the large cockpit.   There is also upholstered banquet seating around a large dining table that can be converted to a fourth double berth, as well as a compact galley (or kitchen) and a nav. desk with below deck controls and readouts for all the electronics and navigation systems.  The effect of the gleaming hardwood paneling and trim with the white upholstery made the spacious saloon area very inviting.  

As Dar, Ed and I got comfortably settled in the cockpit area, Jon retrieved the dock lines and soon we were underway, motoring out of the marina area of the harbour, past the outer anchorage at its entrance, locally known as “the waiting room” and into the open water.  Although it was a calm day, once we were away from shore and heading toward Carmen Island, Jon pointed out the line of ripples midway across the channel marking a line of wind that we headed for.

Along the way he introduced us to the basic navigation and sailing features of the boat and we had the opportunity to take the helm (steer) as he stowed lines and bumpers making the boat seaworthy in the expectation of some sailing ahead.  The large cockpit would comfortably sit up to eight around a folding table, and with twin wheels aft there was plenty of room for a group twice the size of the four of us on board.  Forward, the spacious deck also had plenty of space to stretch out for some “rays” and there were matching kayaks lashed to the rails on either side, providing more options for fun on the water as well as snorkelling and casual fishing for lunch.

Once we reached the line of wind we had seen at a distance, Jon unfurled the mainsail from the mast where it is stored and released the Genoa headsail and we were underway and under sail!  This reminded me of one of my favourite moments from my own, sadly limited, sailing experience – when the onboard engine can be shut off and only the sound of the wind in the rigging and the water rushing by becomes the accompaniment to the true sailing experience!

As we relaxed around the cockpit table over a delicious lunch provided by Dar from the Bajaja kitchen, Jon described typical excursions ranging from a half day to a full day on the water and even extending to multi-day trips for smaller groups.  The itinerary can vary with the whims of the passengers and the wind conditions on the day.  Often the time aboard is divided between sailing and enjoying one of the many anchoring spots within easy access of the home port.  Snorkelling, kayaking, and swimming are some of the water activities that can be enjoyed at anchor, as well as the incomparable luxury of lazing about on a beautiful boat surrounded by the beauty of the Sea of Cortez.

As the wind began to die, it was time to retrace our course back to Escondido under power and enjoy the dramatic approaches to this beautiful harbour.  Adding to the enjoyment of this perfect day was the calm and confident presence of our Skipper Jon, who balanced the obvious skill and experience that comes from a lifetime of boating, with the relaxed and charming attitude of a true host, making sure his guests aboard enjoyed their experience fully.  I was reminded of a sailing instructor who had once advised me that the goal of a proficient sailor was to always conduct oneself with “grace and decorum” – a perfect description of the way that Jon handles himself and his boat.

If you are interested in sharing an unforgettable experience like I have described here, you can get more information on the website I linked to at the beginning of this posting and select “Loreto, Sea of Cortez Sailing Charters” at the top of the page for more details and contact information.  Although my opportunities to enjoy a day on the water are rare, I have long understood that the BEST part of the life experience in this pristine place is to be found – on the water – and that’s a truly special part of “Living Loreto”.