This column is being written just before Christmas, and you will only be reading it after the New Year, so Feliz Año Nuevo to all!
Sadly, as the title of this piece suggests, back on this past Thanksgiving Day our community experienced a terrible tragedy. Two visitors went kayaking and were lost at sea. As of this writing, only one body has been recovered. An air/sea/land rescue immediately went into effect, augmented by the Baja Bush Pilots (private aircraft), private boats and shore patrols of residents with quads and side by sides. While every effort was made to locate the couple alive, it was not to be. Apparently, they went out onto the Sea of Cortez and got caught on rough water in a wind from which they could not escape. I am quite sure that by now most of you reading this will have read numerous articles detailing the tragic event. It is not my intent to rehash it or to provide information that has heretofore been missing. The devastating effect of settling on the remaining family members does not need another wordsmith reporting on the tragedy in excruciating detail. My sincerest condolences to the family.
Rather, in light of the tragedy, cautionary information is warranted. If you are visiting Peñasco for the first time, or the one-hundredth time, it cannot be repeated often enough: NEVER turn your back on the Sea of Cortez, or any ocean, or lake for that matter. Since we are in Peñasco, though, I’ll confine my remarks to the Sea of Cortez.
While you may be walking along the shore, enjoying gentle, ankle lapping ripples, and the sea looks as calm as a lake, a mile or so offshore there could be six-foot swells and wind driven rogue waves. It only gets more ferocious the farther out into the sea you go. I speak from experience. Most sailors and fishermen who have spent time on the Sea of Cortez will agree, it is a mercurial body of water…and not to be trusted! Living here, I have witnessed the sudden transformation of a tranquil, glass-like sea into a snarling monster, lashing the beach with crashing surf and high winds, in the space of just a few minutes. Seeing that, you can easily understand how dangerous it is. The difference is, if you are on shore, you can retreat to your home or condo and watch from the safety of your living room. If you are on a boat or in a kayak out on the sea away from shore…you’re screwed.
While the Pacific Ocean is infamous for its rip tides and pounding surf, the north end of the Sea of Cortez, because of its placid, shallow beaches, is thought of as tranquil and calm. A great place for sun and fun…and it is…but don’t discount Cortez’ ability to bite!
Also, don’t overestimate your own abilities when it comes to both seamanship and physical reserves. My son was visiting me at the beach on Thanksgiving Day. When he heard about the missing kayakers, before jumping on the quad to scout the beaches, he made the following comment which bears repeating: “by the time you think you might be in trouble, you already are.” Words to remember and to keep in the forefront of your mind if you venture out onto the Sea of Cortez.
Most of the concessions that cater to tourists for water sports are well aware of the dangers. Although it takes money out of their pockets, most will not take the chance of going out on the sea if there is even a hint of bad water or weather. The guys who take folks out for parasailing, and even the tow behind banana sausages, keep a ‘weather eye’ out before they launch. Charters like Del Mar and EcoFun won’t leave port if the sea is acting up. Reports from the shrimp fleet are listened to with great interest by all seamen (and women) ashore, and those boats are ocean-going and can take the rough conditions!
Please, view the tragedy our community experienced on Thanksgiving Day as a cautionary tale when heading out onto the Sea of Cortez away from the beach. Be aware that calm waters can turn violently ugly in the blink of an eye and the sea is merciless. It doesn’t care who you are, or how experienced you are, or how often you have sailed the waters. Having lived on, flown over, and sailed on this particular body of water for many years, my best advice is to never, ever, turn your back on the Sea of Cortez…not even for a minute.