After five hot weeks in Santa Rosalia, we had the opportunity to have several discussions with cruisers in the marina as they came and went in regards to weathering storms there. One boat in particular- sv Slipper, had weathered Hurricane Newton in 2015 at the dock in Santa Rosalia. They said it was hell on earth and the never wished to go through it again.
So, as Summer is hurricane season in Mexico, we decided to sail across the Sea of Cortez to Mainland Mexico and weather the rest of the season at the marina in San Carlos. Although not totally impossible for hurricanes to hit there (Hurricane Odile in 2014 toppled several boats on the hard there) it is very protected and as safe as you are going to get if you don’t go further north. (Since our business requires internet to run, we needed to be at a marina with internet access and therefore couldn’t go north).
It is about 7 nautical miles to cross the Sea of Cortez from Santa Rosalia, Baja Californa Sur to San Carlos, Sonora. This is the shortest distance to cross the Sea of Cortez, but you do have to be careful as the Sea of Cortez has been know to get quite angry at times and really kick up a fuss. We have heard all kinds of stories of horrible crossings- be it from the La Paz to Mazatlán or Santa Rosalia to San Carlos. We were very careful to check weather forecasts frequently to find a decent weather window to cross. We also had to be sure we weren’t leaving on a night when a Chubasco (sudden and intense nighttime storm) was going to hit. Read more here about predicting and preparing for a Chubasco.
On August 28th, 2017, we left the dock at 1:15am, planning for about a 15 hour crossing. We did a lot of motor sailing that night and battled a lot of wind on our nose.
We finally arrived after a fairly uneventful crossing at about 4:45pm. We were warned that the afternoon winds tend to pick up in San Carlos and this is extremely accurate. They really kicked up when we wanted to dock and continued that pattern almost each day of our stay. We booked our slip a couple of weeks in advance at Marina San Carlos as it does tend to fill up in the summer months as people hunker down for the hurricane season. It was around 0.42 a foot USD and worked out to $514 USD per month, including electricity and water. Keeping in mind that the water on the dock there is NOT potable, the water is really only good for washing the boat or cooling yourself down. One other thing to note about the Marina in San Carlos is that the slips are VERY tight and the fairways are quite narrow. With the wind blowing it was very difficult to get into our slip. We are still not totally sure how we managed it. The boat beside us was one fender width away!
We knew it would be extremely hot in San Carlos. In fact, we met a few people from San Carlos while in Santa Rosalia who said that Santa Rosalia was cooler than San Carlos. Really?! Not sure how that is possible. As we’d been sleeping outside and survived 5 weeks in Santa Rosalia in July and August, we figured a few more weeks in San Carlos would be doable. Then, we met some cruisers on the dock who told us we wouldn’t be sleeping outside anymore. What?! Why?! Well, San Carlos has LOTS of mosquitos and other bugs. Ick. While the Baja was virtually mosquito-free in the summer, the Mainland side is a different story. We verified their statement when we went for dinner and attempted to sit outside- only to be swarmed by dozens of mosquitos and had to move inside. The restaurant ‘Embarcadero’ was so gracious and let us sit inside with our dog, Ruby because the mozzies were so bad. Side note- this restaurant has mostly gringo food- but if you feel like a good grilled cheese and fries, this is your place!
Our neighbours on Ciao Bella who told us about the mosquitos also offered to take us to Home Depot in the morning to buy an air conditioner if we didn’t have a good night in the boat. I’m sure they knew we wouldn’t- LOL. It was miserable trying to sleep inside the boat with all the screens in. The screens block about 50% of the ventilation, so it was HOT and so uncomfortable. Needless to say, Lisa went off with Dianna from Ciao Bella first thing in the morning to pick up an air conditioner at Home Depot. Oh well, we lasted pretty long without it! At least we tried. We picked up the smallest ‘in window’ type air conditioner from Home Depot- an LG model for about $200 USD. We also picked up some 1″ thick pink insulation foam and decided that the easiest place to mount the AC would be in the companionway. We popped it in place, put one piece of foam straight up-and-down on top of it and another one parallel to it where the slider usually goes and voila! Instant AC. A bit of hassle going in and out of the boat, but since it was SO hot, we really weren’t going out much anyways. Sometimes if we needed to pop out briefly, we’d just go out the v-berth hatch.
So, we spent about 10 weeks in San Carlos and ended up weathering Tropical Storm Lidia there as well. It really hit the Baja hard- especially Cabo San Lucas and La Paz, but by the time it got to San Carlos, it was not that strong. We didn’t see more than 35 knots of wind but we did get a LOT of torrential rains.
From San Carlos you can easily walk up by the Hotel and catch a bus to Guaymas for about 12 pesos. There is lots to explore in town, from local tortillarias to a large mercado with lots of wares and food for sale. Also, about a mile from the marina is the ‘Santa Rosa’ market, nicknamed the ‘T’ store that has a lot of ‘gringo’ food and an array of Costco products, which we loved.
San Carlos itself is famous for its mountains- specifically the ‘Tetas de Cabras’ (goat teats) which you can see as you approach by boat and also while you are in the marina. Every Saturday, there is a ‘Farmers Market’ right by the ‘Shots’ restaurant at the marina. It is certainly not much compared to La Paz, but you will find a stand with homemade dog biscuits, pies, portuguese donuts, preserved veggies, fantastic homemade bread and dragon fruit.
There is great cell reception in San Carlos and Guyamas. There is WiFi offered by the San Carlos Marina. When we were there, it was pretty much down the entire time, but we did end up having success connecting to the WiFi at the local hotel. You need a username and password, but we went in and asked and they gave it to us. Never hurts to ask! At times, the hotel WiFi was lacking also, so we went to our favourite- Barracuda Bob’s. It is a local café right at the hotel that offers baked good, coffee, smoothies, etc. and has FANTASTIC WiFi. They are happy to allow you to sit there and use their WiFi for a while and sip a coffee, etc. Tokens for the laundry room right next door are available through Barracuda Bob as well. It’s nice to do your laundry while enjoying a cold drink and some WiFi. We also heard that the hotel offers laundry service if you go to their employee entrance and ask. We heard that they don’t always have your laundry ready same-day though. Something to consider if you bring sheets or towels to them and don’t have spares.
There is also a beach club that you can easily walk to from the Marina that is open to the public. I believe it was about 100 pesos per person and children were even less. A fellow cruising family that we met there on sv Habi Hoba told us that if you ask at the Marina office, they will provide you with a key card to access the Beach Club for free.
A few other notes- JJ’s tacos is a really fun taco stand that you can easily walk to from the marina. Tequila’s restaurant is super-friendly, fluent in English and cruiser-friendly. The food is okay, but not unbelievable. Fishing licenses are available at the marina office. The ‘Captain’s Club’ restaurant is right at the marina as well, but is closed for the summer. We really liked this place- they have fantastic wood-fired pizzas. If you like live music- they also feature live music quite frequently.