Flight of the Errant Torpedoes

Baja de los Angeles to La Paz

Baja Sea-Kayaking Adventure #4

26 days, 480 miles, Nov 1977 with John and Al

Ray Jardine

1977-10-27Flight of the Errant Torpedoes page 1 of 28
Allen coming ashore through the surf as John waits offshore

1. deviating from the regular or proper course.
2. journeying or traveling, as a medieval knight in quest of adventure; roving adventurously.

In the fall of 1977, John, my rock climbing partner at the time, and I had spent three weeks floating down the Yellowstone River, hunting for agates - which at the time were quite valuable, if you knew were to look, and if you could find the right ones. John had grown up around there and was among the elite at finding the best agates. I was broke and John was so fugal it wasn't even funny, and we had gone to the river in order to grubstake the Baja trip.

If our river trip had one theme in common during those starry campfire discussions, it was that upcoming Baja kayak trip. I had twice paddled from San Felipe to Bahia de Los Angeles - about a third of the way down the Baja peninsula - and now wanted to make the journey from there to La Paz, an additional distance of perhaps 500 costal miles. John had never paddled a kayak before but was eager to experience such a trip.

A group of three seemed the best size, as a compromise between having enough manpower to deal with an injury or illness, and yet small enough so that things would be kept relatively uncomplicated and efficient, allowing good progress.

My first choice for our third was one of my Outward Bound students of the past summer named Allen. A red-headed Canadian, Al had proven as strong as a proverbial bull, and based on his outstanding performance on that 3-week program I imagine he might make an agreeable companion for this trip. I wrote him a letter stating our intentions and inviting him to join us. He wrote an enthusiastic reply, saying that he would be delighted.


So John, Al and I find ourselves in California, driving to San Diego. Along the way we make occasional stops to hurriedly lay up another paddle blade. I had made a mold for this on a previous occasion, and from it had made my paddle. The paddle is a very personal thing to most sea-kayakers, and I wanted Al and John to have the satisfaction of having completed the trip using a paddle they had made themselves.

Our paddle construction consists of carving the end of a wooden shaft (a 6-1/2 foot length of 1-1/4 fir closet rod) to fit the contours of the mold, then cutting several layers of fiberglass cloth to the appropriate size, mixing a pot of resin with catalyst, and finally putting it all together with a throw-away paintbrush. The sultry heat of the day accelerates the setting process, and in no time the new blade is popped off the mold, trimmed to shape with a pocketknife, and we are off on another stint of driving.

Reaching San Diego, we provision with several bags of groceries, place my Rambler in a storage yard, and begin our journey south of the border in John's old VW van onto which we had securely tied, although quite precarious in appearance, three kayaks purchased as factory seconds from a small firm in Utah.

We manage to transverse Tijuana and extricate ourselves from this unbelievable maze, and get on "Mexico 1," the Transpeninsular Highway running the length of the Baja peninsula. With renewed hope we drive far into the night, then stop for impromptu camping near the beach north of San Quintin.

Please keep in mind that I wrote this story in 1977. Much has changed since then, but the account is meant to be historical so I am leaving the details as they were, back then.

At dawn the next day we got back on the the Baja "highway" which is only a narrow strip of pavement winding up over, down and around while generally working its way in a southwesterly direction. Because of the intense heat of the desert sun, the pavement is prone to deterioration, so we find large, bombed-out potholes reminiscent of a B-29 supply line attack. Each pothole, or nearly so, has a circle of white paint around it. So the rule here seems simple enough: avoid the circles.

We also encounter the occasional 6-mile long pile of sand covering one lane, leaving only a single lane with no turn-outs. Fortunately the traffic is light.

The Baja environment is primarily desert, but it does experience tremendous flash floods once in a while, and these can be so strong that they obliterate most anything in their paths. However, such occurrences are so rare that they don't necessary warrant the construction of bridges along the highway. Instead, we find depth markers in the arroyos.

Another interesting aspect of this road is the thin strip of soil flanking both sides. Here we see feeble greenery growing in the otherwise parched desert. We also find large, scrawny cattle grazing on the side of the highway, sometimes with at least one foot on the pavement. However. they appear to be no problem in obstructing the normal flow of traffic, we imagine due to the ongoing process of natural selection. Those that flinched were flattened by the mammoth trucks that ply the highway. Might is right.

Successfully negotiating most of the hazards, and nearing our destination, our VW climbs the last high plateau and suddenly the mighty Sea of Cortez lies sprawled before us. The view is spectacular, with the great expanse of emerald blue aquamarine ocean ornamented with interesting islands lying just off shore. To our desert-weary eyes the view fully justifies the long, hot journey. And oh, that water looks inviting!

The narrow road descends sharply into a canyon, and we come to a place where the road had been completely washed away, terminating in a yawning pit. A sign reads "DESVIACION," the word being upside-down but the arrow pointing in the correct direction for the detour. With that hazard circumvented we follow a gravel road winding its way down into the secluded fishing village of Bahia de Los Angeles. Once there, we pull the bus to a stop near the beach and make a dash for the water.

"Be careful wading through the water," I caution my friends. "There could be stingrays."

The water is perfectly flat, reasonably warm and seemingly effervescent to our parched hides. It feels wonderful for me to have returned. And I think Allan and John are equally impressed with the beauty, judging by their ebullience. The place is like no other, especially on such a calm day.

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