1981: Epic 700-Mile Mexican Kayak Journey
San Diego Pair Completes Epic 700-Mile Mexican Kayak Journey
San Diego Log; November 21, 1981
Two San Diego sailors recently completed a kayak trip from San Felipe to La Paz. Here is their story.
By Ed G.
We reached La Paz 23 days after leaving San Felipe. The 700-mile trip was the longest yet for Ray, who has been on several Baja kayaking expeditions. It was the first time I had ever kayaked.
Although our kayaks were light-weight - just 28 pounds - we were heavily laden with gear and Provisions. Fully loaded, we carried five gallons of water apiece, skin diving and fishing equipment, repair kits for the boats and paddles, camping and cooking necessities, and some food to supplement the fish we caught.
Even with so much added weight, we averaged 32 miles per day for the entire trip at a speed of about four knots. During our last four days we averaged more than 44 miles daily, although we had to paddle 11 hours a day to do it. Most days we did not camp until we had paddled for at least eight hours, no matter how rough the conditions.
Paddling time each day was limited not by the strength of our arms, but by how long we could endure the cramped cockpits of our kayaks. We began paddling well before sunrise each day. Early in the trip, during a full moon, we were able to start around 3 a.m. The moonlit nights were incredibly beautiful, with intensely bright phosphorescence in the water as we glided by strange-looking rocks jutting out from the black and silver cliffs.
As we slipped along in the pre-dawn coolness of one such night, some whales feeding on plankton near shore passed within 100 feet of us. We were thankful they chose not to surface underneath our boats.
Each evening we camped on shore. We were careful to choose campsites in protected coves to ensure we'd have no surf and a safe departure the following morning.
Cooking was a simple matter. We would quickly build a driftwood fire to cook the fish caught that day. At the end of a hard day's paddling, we were satisfied by fresh fish roasting on the grill, hand-made tortillas, and coffee with Kahlua.
Crossing some of the larger bays took us several miles off-shore, but most of the time we were less than 50 yards from land. Navigation was easy, with so many islands for bearings.
It is important to keep in mind that a kayak is more than a mode of transportation. - it is crucial for survival as well. If a kayak is smashed when trying to penetrate surf, it is nearly impossible to walk out of many sections of a rugged coast.
Here are some highlights of the trip:
After 11 hours of paddling in rough conditions, we approached Santa Rosalia in the dark. Ray and I paddled close together but couldn't see each other or the jetty we knew was only a few yards away. The seas were treacherous.
The six to eight foot swells were breaking on the rocks and bounding back at us. We surfed around the breakwater into the quiet area of the harbor, tired but exhilarated that we'd made it.
We landed on the only beach we could find - which only happened to be 50 feet from a restaurant. Exhausted, we spread our sleeping bags on the black sand in back of the building. As we drifted into sleep, a loud, electric Mexican rock band opened the night's fiesta. The only protection we had from the drummer two feet away from us was an open window.
Around one a.m., while pretending to be asleep, we heard the management discussing whether to use bright lights to scare us away. Bleary-eyed, we set off early the next day for the quiet, unpopulated wilderness.
Our last day's paddling was rather epic as well. A large swell was running and the huge breakers hammering the coast made landing impossible. Consequently, we paddled an unbroken eight-and-a-half hours and were less than a mile from the entrance to La Paz harbor at dusk.
Unfortunately, the water was so rough at the entrance to the channel that we decided to risk the hazards of a surf landing rather than try to make La Paz in the dark. Paddling to the beach, my kayak pitchpoled in three feet of water. Happily, nothing was lost or broken, and, with Ray's help, I dragged my swamped boat onto the beach.
We were relieved to be safely ashore, but were frustrated at the sight of the La Paz lights shining over the sandy spit on which we were camped. We ate the last of our food and drank nearly all the remaining water and went to sleep.
In the morning, we carried our boats and gear around the point to the bay's calm water and were at the Hotel Gran Baya within an hour. Ray's wife, Susie, met us there for a celebratory champagne breakfast.
The trip was all the more satisfying for us because of the time in which we completed the passage We haven't heard of anyone paddling the same stretch of coastline in less than three-and-a-half months.
I have sailed 30,000 miles delivering sailboats, but nothing I have done can match the kayak trip. The greatest difference between kayaking and sailing arises from paddling so close to shore. Every day we had to pass a dozen points. Even insignificant sandy points create their own weather systems. A pleasant paddle along a rocky beach can quickly turn into a desperate struggle to round a point in the teeth of a 20-knot wind and steep breaking swells. One has to be on guard constantly for changes in the weather.
All in all, the trip was committing, intense, beautiful, and physically demanding - everything a good sea experience ought to be.