The Sea of Cortez is by no means uncharted territory, but it’s pretty damn close in some of these lesser traveled northern waters. For our navigation, we carry three cruising guidebooks* and paper charts for the Sea. We also have some fancy electronic charting software that we never use because it’s based on the last survey of the sea, which was completed in 1856, the same one used for the paper charts. We mostly use the Breeding/Bansmer book, but we try to cross reference all our resources to shine some glimmer of clarity on an otherwise murky situation.
We figure that when it comes down to it, many shoals, pinnacle rocks and other underwater hazards have most certainly gone unnoticed in the few passes that have been made in the creation of our collected charts. When the book says to “give the point a wide berth,” does it mean a quarter mile? Or does it mean three miles? We don’t know. And most of the time, the authors don’t know either. It’s part of the beauty of this place, it’s still remote, wild and unknown. It’s why we’re here.
Okay, romanticism aside, we almost hit a huge fuckin’ rock yesterday that could have sunk the boat a mile offshore!
We were sailing out of Bahia Alacran, staying about a mile offshore, since the guidebook said to “give the point a wide berth,” as discussed earlier. Our depth sounder had been reading 120’ or so for a half hour, and all of a sudden it jumps to 50’, then 40’, then 30’. We start getting nervous and I leap to the side deck and look overboard to try and see bottom. The sounder is now saying we’re in the 20’s. Just as I’m squinting and about to say that I might be seeing bottom, a giant boulder, what they call a pinnacle rock, glides by our port side at three knots, five feet below the surface. Mind you, our keel stretches down about that deep. By the time either of us has a chance to say anything, it’s gone by and we’re back to 20’ again. We immediately tack offshore, hoping to put distance between us and the hard, hard continent. We get about three miles offshore before we head south to round the point, and for the next hour we sail in over 500’ of water with pinnacles of less than 60’ rising under us about every 20 minutes or so.
So when we say “give Punta Pescador a wide berth”, I’d suggest 5 miles offshore if you don’t like to see 400’ swings on your depth sounder. We are reminded, yet again that we are in a remote wilderness out here, and complacency is not an option.
*Shawn Breeding and Heather Bansmer’s “Sea of Cortez: A Cruiser’s Guidebook”
Baja Boater’s Guide: Volume II-Sea of Cortez
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