“About noon, we arrived at Puerto Escondido, the Hidden Harbor, a place of magic. If one wished to design a secret personal bay, one would probably build something very like this little harbor. A point swings about, making a small semicircular bay fringed with bright-green mangroves, and only when one has turned inside this outer bay can one see that there is second, secret bay beyond – a long narrow bay with an entrance not more than fifty feet wide at flood.” – John Steinbeck. Log from “The Sea of Cortez” 1941
Known for its well-protected harbor – a series of semicircular bays surrounded by low hills – Marina Puerto Escondido is one of the best “hurricane holes” in the region. Its natural beauty is rich with the Sierra de la Giganta mountains towering to the west. Rounded cactus-covered hills rise gently above the water. Green mangroves line the shores encircling the many embayments within the harbor. For these reasons and because it is also very close to so many nearby islands we chose to call this marina our home port during our stay here in the Sea of Cortez.
In the above photo you can see the narrow, 50-foot-wide channel (center photo) that boats must transit to enter the main harbor. Because the channel is narrow, large megayachts wait in that triangle-shaped bay to the right of the entrance (called “the waiting room”) for high tide, when the channel is about 16 feet deep. Our 51-foot Maritimo, Tangaroa, has no problem getting in and out, no matter the tide, as we draw only 4 1/2 feet! Megayachts twice our size, and larger, easily make it in to the dock.
Once through the channel, there’s a man-made circular area, called the “ellipse.” A number of vessels ride on mooring buoys here. The thin curving line above the ellipse is the jetty; that’s where I filmed the turtle grazing on algae. Reef fish love the jetty and herons and sandpipers often hunt along the rocks.
Once beyond the jetty, a boat can go into the large natural harbor and hook onto a mooring buoy. A mooring buoy is a massive weight on the bottom to which a line is attached. At the top of the line is a float, the buoy. The boat hooks onto the buoy, securing the vessel in place. Mooring buoys are safer than anchors, which can drag along the bottom, or – in the case of strong winds – possibly come loose causing a boat to crash into another one or go aground.
Because we want to be at a dock rather than out on a buoy, we cruised past the jetty into the slips, the separate spaces for individual boats. The marina office, store, restaurant, and showers & laundry are located by the slips. Being in a slip is kind of like being on an RV at sea. Power & water are available to hook into and we also have good Internet. Tom is extra careful about tying Tangaroa to the dock because (unlike an RV) the boat moves with the wind, tides, and currents. (Even in a gentle breeze we can hear the water softly sloshing on the boat’s hull.) It’s important to ensure the vessel is perfectly tied up so the boat doesn’t bump into the dock under any conditions. And that is especially critical when El Norte, the “northers,” come galloping into the area.
Sometimes, during the wee hours, we awaken to a loud sloshing against the hull. We hear sailboat rigging clanking against masts. Whistling, howling banshees screech through lines as El Norte arrives in the night. Come morning, Tom and I are up early, checking all the lines yet again, making sure everything is perfect to ride out this blow.
Strong northerly winds plague the Sea of Cortez, generally during January and February but can begin sooner and linger longer. These winds are created by the gradient when a high pressure around the Southwest’s Four Corners region flows to an area of lower pressure south of Baja. Once this happens, and it seems to do so every few days or so, we watch the isobars stack closely atop one another on the weather chart. (Isobars are lines drawn on a weather map connecting places having the same atmospheric pressure. The distance between isobars indicates the barometric gradient – the degree of change in atmospheric pressure – across the region shown on the map. When the lines are close together, a strong pressure gradient is indicated, creating conditions for strong winds.)
The combination of the Baja Peninsula’s mountainous backbone and that pressure gradient funnel these winds down the narrow stretch of the Sea of Cortez. As the wind begins to race southward pushed along by the strong north wind, the sea turns frothy with whipping whitecaps. Waves pile closely atop one another turning the sea into a heaving mass of wild water.
But inside the protected embrace of the hills, the sailboats on their mooring buoys in the harbor rise, fall, and swing on the waves, securely anchored in position. While they rock & roll in the harbor, they are nonetheless well-protected. We’re glad to be safely tied to the dock in the marina! Behind the long, concrete dock that separates the slips from the natural harbor, the winds howl but the water surface remains relatively calm. This attenuation dock works wonders to diminish the effects of the waves sloshing towards the slips. We hunker down as the winds whistle, moan, shriek, and scream for days on end.
There’s no place we’d rather be when El Norte releases his fury than right here, tucked in safe and sound at this magic Hidden Harbor! (Click here to watch the video!)