Kayaking South from Bahía Concepción

graham mackintosh baja kayakingBy Graham Mackintosh

A year ago I set off before dawn from Bahía de Los Ángeles and paddled my somewhat overloaded sit-on-top kayak down to Mulegé and Bahía Concepción. For a month, the previous October/November, I kayaked from Gonzaga Bay to Bahía de los Ángeles.

Now for Bahía Concepción south to who knows where… probably Loreto. Making it to La Paz is perhaps a little too ambitious given the time I have and the speed of the kayak. That pleasure awaits for another month.

Part of my preparation includes downloading tide charts and reviewing books and maps for information for likely landing sites along the coast.

The extreme tides and currents of the northern Sea of Cortez are behind me. Once out of Bahía Concepción I will be sticking to the coast hoping the wind is at my back from the north, as it should be this time of year, and hoping it’s moderate. But I’ll always be ready to go ashore if necessary.

From a kayaking perspective, paddling a rudderless, high profile, sit-on-top might be foolish; paddlers have died ending up in the sea or unable to reach land in a sudden, strong west or north wind. But for me, I see my kayak as a floating platform making a 33-year old dream come true. So often, hiking the Baja coast back then, I wished I had a way to make progress no matter what tide or cliffs dictated. It was detours inland that I dreaded.

So far I’ve dealt with storms and surf and had to paddle ashore fast; but the wind cooperated for enough days ensuring I was able to reach my destination… a place to access the highway and get out.

Two enormous advantages to how I traveled in the 1980s give me confidence.

I have a floating, waterproof, Spot device, not much bigger than a cigarette packet, to send my location and condition by satellite to up to ten email addresses. Every evening the world should know where I am and the fact I’m safe… or otherwise!

graham mackintosh baja kayaking

I also have a hand pump Katadyn desalinator to make drinking water from the sea. It’s about the weight of a gallon of water, but it’s rated to produce a gallon of drinking water an hour by pumping seawater across an osmotic membrane. As I’m usually too busy paddling when on the water, I tend to hand pump the device on land rather than from the kayak. This involves more work and time bringing clean seawater ashore and changing the seawater frequently. So I tend to get less than half the theoretical yield… and a few hand blisters. Even so, obtaining close to half-a-gallon of drinking water an hour goes a long way to making for a safe and successful trip. I just hope it never fails.

There is nothing routine or guaranteed about this trip. One piece of bad luck or poor decision and things can go wrong very fast.

On a previous trip, instead of going the long way around, I foolishly crossed LA Bay encouraged by weather forecasts for fair winds. A mile or more from land I was surprised by a strong north wind and white caps sending waves into my lap.

Although back in the 1980s I walked around 26-mile-long Bahía Concepción, I imagine I’ll cut across the bay and that means—again—I’ll have a major body of water to deal with, fully loaded, right at the beginning of the trip. And this will be in an unfamiliar kayak. Instead of the blue Cobra Tandem, I now have a yellow Cobra Fish n’ Dive. It’s essentially the same slow, stable kayak. The old tandem got a bit too battered and leaky. I sold it last December shortly after I arrived in Bahía Concepción.

With the “new” kayak, I tried to cut down on leaks from hatches and rod holders using silicone filler. In heavy seas or if the kayak overturns, it will take on water. And even though I can climb back on fairly easily (I hope), I don’t need a waterlogged kayak to try to get to shore.

The journey will probably begin at Posada Concepción. Given fair weather, I will paddle across Bahía Concepción and head north towards Punta Concepción to camp. Or, if I don’t feel conditions are right, I might spend the night at Los Naranjos—where the previous stage ended—and make the shorter crossing when the weather permits.

graham mackintosh baja kayaking

As always, there’s no rush. I have nearly a month to enjoy the sights of the Sea of Cortez—turtles, dolphins, birds, whales, manta rays, fish boils. I love meeting assorted Baja folks in the more remote areas, but it’s hard to beat the peace and privilege of camping alone. Although experience has taught me that coyotes come around most nights and will run off with anything not in the tent, the kayak, or well-tied down.

There will be a lot of work making and breaking camp, and coyote-proofing for the night… and then paddling all the hours I can. Some nights I’ll be up well before dawn to launch in the dark and take advantage of receding tides and calm conditions—always a little thrilling, especially if there is bioluminescence!

Usually I’m too tired to fuss much about food. Nuts and cereal bars and coffee suffice… early on perhaps fruit and a warm beer. I expect to lose a few pounds.

I’ll be leaving my vehicle in Bahía Concepción and making my way back from Loreto. Maybe I’ll get a ride, maybe I’ll return on the bus. Certainly it’ll be an adventure. I’ll keep you posted.


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3 thoughts on “Kayaking South from Bahía Concepción

  1. Lynn Howard says:

    Love reading about your adventures. I read your first book. A friend of mine went on one of your gray whale guided trips. Just shared this on Facebook. What do you read? Do you have skin cancer yet? One thing that slows me down for these types of outtings.

    1. Graham Mackintosh says:

      Hi Lynn, on the trip I had an old black-and-white Nook e-reader with over 100 books loaded. Mostly read Lyell and historical geology. Battery lasted throughout the trip. But was too tired to read much. Listened to my small radio for a while to get the news then slept. Was too tired after a full day to do much else. Fortunately, no serious skin cancers yet, probably because we didn’t see much sun when I grew up in England! But had plenty of things frozen off. And on trips now I’m well covered and lathered in sunscreen… being as careful as I can.

  2. roger and glenys gibbons says:

    Hi Graham, loved reading about your trip. We cycled from Vancouver to the mexican border a few years back, and earlier this year cycled down thru baja, and loved it, loved the locals and the food.
    We borrowed a handmade kayak from a couple of snowbirds staying at playa coyote (alan and ann).
    We said we wanted to go back to Baja and stay for a winter, so went and bought a 26year old mercedes motorhome (not a huge RV) and are going to ship it to nova scotia, then drive across Canada, up to Alaska, then head south to Baja. Reading your adventure was great so had to make contact and say “good for you”. We have a double kayak, i row from the back, and the misses fishes from the front! off the north Cornish coast (st.Agnes) the fishing has got very poor over the years, but we enjoy the days out. Just about everyone we met said that the best bits were north of La Paz, do you agree?
    Fish tacos at the bar on playa BuenaVentura and a couple of margaritas…will remember for ever!
    Take care
    Roger and glen

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