April 30, 2010 – Bahia San Juanico, Baja California Sur
By Herb McCormick
In the dead of night, it not only looked the Arctic, it felt like it. True, 57ºF is hardly frigid, but as David Thoreson and I stood on Ocean Watch’s windswept foredeck a little after midnight and prepared to drop the anchor off a remote Baja California village called San Juanico, we both reflected on the startling similarities in the aura of the place. After a somewhat lyrical exchange of thoughts on the nature of travel and wilderness, however, David became more pragmatic. “I’m going down below to get a hat,” he said.
A few hours ago, none of us aboard Ocean Watch had ever heard of San Juanico, but in the dark, right off its shores, it sure felt like an Inuit village high above the Arctic Circle. There was the rough outline of the low landscape, a cluster of lights ashore, the barely discernible grid of dusty streets. In the 25-knot northerly, the jerky motion of the boat pulling up against the set anchor also seemed reminiscent of, say, our arrival in Barrow, Alaska, and the chilly breeze itself wasn’t exactly screaming, “Mexico.”
The relatively protected bay in the lee of San Juanico materialized in our collective consciousness yesterday afternoon when first mate and navigator Dave Logan took to his charts in search of someplace to hide out in the event the building northerly winds continued to rise. And rise they did. By late afternoon, skipper Mark Schrader and Logan had discussed the matter and decided to pull off the highway for what we like to call “a pause for the cause.” Mick Jagger, of course, coined the phrase, “Gimme shelter,” and suddenly we wanted some, too.
The big northerlies that are currently raking not only Baja California but much of the West Coast of the United States continued to persist this morning, but they’re the result of powerful high pressure, not a stormy low, thus producing the phenomenon known as the “fair-weather gale,” which sounds like an oxymoron, but isn’t. Anyway, when we rose this morning we finally had a good look at our surroundings; given the tiny size of San Juanico, there was certainly a lot going on.
The cruising guides say that the little settlement is primarily a fishing cannery but that seems to sell the place a little short. Off to starboard, the view is of low buttes and scrubby vegetation, your classic desert landscape. Ahead, the center of town is certainly dusty, but there are also a couple of large homes sprinkled among the more modest dwellings. In fact, just outside the main drag, there’s a stupendous hacienda with paths and walkways lined by white rocks and a half dozen outbuildings; if the Kennedy’s moved their compound from Hyannis to Mexico, they could do worse than this pad in San Juanico.
(Speaking of Hyannis, where after a long, protracted battle, the Cape Wind project to build a wind farm in Nantucket Sound has recently gotten the green light – the late, distinguished senator from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy, was a staunch opponent, and the Cape Wind victory, perhaps more than anything else, even a Republican replacing him in the Senate, sends the strongest possible signal that the Kennedy dynasty is done – San Juanico’s “skyline” also boasts a half dozen wind turbines, a preview of coming attractions for Northeast sailors and tourists. Perhaps Harvard should open a satellite campus here.)
Yet I digress.
The other thing San Juanico has going for it, clearly, is a ripping, epic, classic surf break at the point called Punta Pequena; though it was rider-less on this boisterous morning, the many 4×4’s with surf racks sprinkled along the beach suggests there’s shredding to be had. In any event, it appears fishing is but one of many enterprises in the surprising little town.
If we had more time, we’d love to have a poke around. But we don’t.
At mid-afternoon on Friday, however, the lords of weather were calling the shots, not us, and the staunch northerly winds were forecast to persist and maybe even strengthen into Saturday. At this writing, at the top of each hour, if not before, one or more of us wander up on deck, sniff the breeze…and hold on to our hats. The moment it moderates, we’ll roll.
Between now and then, I’ll be listening to my iPod, which in fact contains a wide selection by the good, old Rolling Stones. “Wild horses” won’t keep us from San Diego, but until this bloody breeze dies, we can’t get no satisfaction.
-Herb McCormick with photographs by David Thoreson
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