Baja Trip Report - La Ventana

Baja Trip Report - La Ventana

Post by Gordon Blo » Fri, 01 Mar 1996 04:00:00

Here's a report of an great windsurfing trip I took recently to
La Ventana, located near La Paz at the southern end of the Baja

First, the important stuff:  in a 4 day trip we got 4 days of
excellent wind, 20 knots or greater each day!!  Bottom line, La
Ventana is by far the most reliable spot in Baja for winter wind.
Though Los Barriles gets more press, it actually is gets much
fewer windy days than La Ventana.  Our host for the trip, Kirk of
Captain Kirk's Windsurfing in San Pedro, California, has been
keeping wind stats for La Ventana over the past four years.  His
numbers have La Ventana sailable an average of 80% of the days
during the November 15 to March 15 season.  Last year was an off
year at about 70% sailable.  By contrast, Los Barriles was
reportedly only 45% sailable last season.  An average year at Los
Barriles is reportedly only about 50% sailable.  The one time I
went to Los Barriles in the past I got only 1 of 4 sailable days.
La Ventana has three solid wind producing features:  venturi
effect from a mountainous offshore island, thermal draw from a
hot inland valley, and a trade-like winter north wind.  Other
Baja spots have only one or two of these features.

The attraction of Los Barriles is that there are some very nice
hotels with pools, restaurants, tennis courts, fishing boats,
etc., located right on the beach at the sailing sites.  At Los
Barriles, you can bring non-sailing significant others, kids,
etc., and they can have fun while your out sailing.  And there
are plenty of other things to do to keep you occupied on the calm
days.  If you want to sail a little and relax a little on your
winter vacation, go to Vela at Los Barriles.  However, if you
want to sail a lot, go to La Ventana!!

Travelers on our recent trip to La Ventana included me (185
pounds, age 36, lower advanced sailor, complete about half of my
jibes) and my buddy Craig (165 pounds, age 35, intermediate
sailor, water starts easily, uses harness, starting to get into
footstraps).  Here's how our trip went.

Friday, Feb 2

Craig and I take a half day off work and go to Los Angeles
International Airport for a 3:00 pm flight.  A short couple hours
later we arrive in La Paz and get in the customs line.  The
Mexican baggage inspector sees my harness and other paraphernalia
and tells me he is also a windsurfer.  He's from Loreto, a little
further north, and claims the winds can really be good there.  In
general, though, you don't see a whole lot of Mexican windsurfers
out on the water in Baja.  Captain Kirk has a taxi driver at the
airport waiting for us to make everything easy.  We arrive at the
bed and breakfast run by Kirk, the "Shred Palace", and find that
its been overbooked.  The options that Captain Kirk's offers,
from least to most cost, are (1) camping on the beach at La
Ventana, (2) the bed and breakfast (actually bed and lunch) in La
Paz, or (3) staying at the Hotel Perla in La Paz.  We had opted
for the bed and breakfast to save $$.  Kirk is apologetic about
the situation and tells us he has a room at the Perla reserved
for us for no extra cost.

It turns out we really lucked out in getting to stay at the
Perla.  The bed and breakfast is a ways away from the town
center, requiring taxis or long walks to do things in town at
night.  The Perla is right in the middle of town, on the malecon
(the waterfront).  La Paz is an authentic Mexican city of about
100,000 people, dating to the 1800s when it primarily a
pearl diving and fishing port.  Even today, tourism plays only a
minor role in the city life, unlike the resort row two hours
further south in Cabo San Lucas.  La Paz has a pleasant,
relatively prosperous feel to it and seems to be somewhat
undiscovered by Americans.

We have a great dinner at Carlos and Charlie's.  Each of us has
two margaritas, an appetizer, a beer, and a full dinner for a
total of $12 each including tip.  I guarantee you can't do that
down in Cabo.  The difference is that most of the patrons at our
restaurant are Mexicans and you're paying Mexican prices, not
inflated tourist prices as in Cabo.  Not all that many people
speak much English in La Paz.  This is cool because Craig is
pretty advanced in Spanish and I can get by OK.  We have some fun
rapping with the locals.  As I've found in other countries, the
Mexicans appreciate it if you make an effort to speak to them in
their language.

On a Friday night, the traffic along the malecon is a slow parade
of cars and pedestrians out to party for the night.  The
townsfolk are mostly dressed up in their best looking to impress
someone.  We have fun checking out the various music spots and
watering holes.  The music is largely in Spanish, with some
American pop.  The scene starts hopping really late, though,
after midnight; too late for us committed windsurfers.

Saturday, Feb 3, 1996

The wind is calm in La Paz in the morning.  The view from the
balcony of the Perla is extraordinary; you can see why people
decided to settle this particular spot on the peninsula.  Kirk
picks us up at 10:30 am in the "Shred Bus" for the ride out to La
Ventana.  Hosts Kirk and Leigh and about 9 windsurfing guests fit
reasonably well in the old converted mini school bus.  Most of
the guests are Southern California sailors, though a few had come
from as far away as Boston.  The ride to La Ventana takes about
30-40 minutes through some pretty interesting desert landscape.
The area is dry but heavily vegetated with a huge variety of
cactus, thorny trees, and shrubs averaging about 10 feet in

La Ventana itself is a small ejido (collective village)
of about 1,000 people with no guest accommodations other than a
campground.  I was amazed to see about 100 RVs with US plates and
tons of windsurfing gear parked in the campground.  The 1,000
mile trek from the border is a good 2-3 days each way.  Some were
down for 3 weeks, some for the whole season.  Virtually all were
there to take advantage of the best winter windsurfing in Baja.

Kirk's spot is located a short ways north of the campsite on a
two acre beachfront parcel he has purchased in the past year.
Two camping guests and one of Kirk's helpers were already at the
site when we arrive.  A total of 14 people at the sailing site is
a good number; not too many, but enough for some sailing
comradery.  The spot is absolutely gorgeous, with caribbean-type
turquoise blue water near the shore and crystal clear views of
the surrounding mountains and the offshore Island Cerralvo.

Kirk's site has a nice deep arroyo (dry canyon) which provides a
great place for sunbathing out of the wind.  At the site we find
23 late model boards (mostly Seatrend and Hifly) and 35 rigged
sails (mostly Ezzy, Hot, and Windwing).  This amount of equipment
is a reasonable supply for the 11 sailing guests.  There are
showers, a kitchen trailer, and a couple of rustic beach huts.
The camper's tents are in the thorn tree thicket, protected from
the wind.

The wind came up about 1:00 pm to 6.0 strength; I used the
opportunity to become used to the sailing conditions.  The water
is February is still reasonably warm, but with the wind you
definitely want a shorty to be comfortable.  The beach is sandy,
but there is a rim of fist-sized round rocks at the shoreline
than you have to wade through.  A lot of people were using
booties, but I prefer to sail barefoot and the rock dance getting
in and out of the water was not too bad.  About 20 feet off-
shore, the bottom is mostly sand again.  There is a sea urchin
covered reef that you need to be aware of located about 100 yards
off-shore and downwind of the launch.

I sail around on a older Mistral Screamer, a nice comfortable, if
unexciting board.  One great thing about La Ventana is that you
can literally go on 10 mile long reaches if you want.  At the 10
mile point across the bay is Punta Arena (sand point) which marks
the eastern limit of Bahia de La Ventana (bay of the window).
Punta Arena reportedly gets some good surf at times, but with
*** currents and shorebreak.  The sailing within the bay of La
Ventana is quite safe, with a sandy lee shore over the entire
reach to catch tired or broken down sailors.

The wind strength increases to 5.5 for me, most of the other
guests are on 5.0s and 4.5s.  I trade boards for a Hifly 274
(9'0" epoxy sandwich, 108 liters, shaped by Randy French of
Seatrend).  This board is reportedly a race slalom design, and it
is indeed noticeably faster than the Screamer.  I found it very
easy to learn how to ride, however, and started chop hopping
around on it.  Craig hasn't sailed since September, so he's on a
9'6" getting his sea legs again.  Kirk's package includes lunch
at the sailing site; breakfast and dinner are on your own.  The
wind starts to taper off between 5:00 and 6:00.  Everyone's had a
good solid day of sailing and are feeling good as we leave the
beach at about 6:30 pm.

At dinner we find out, to our chagrin, that election day is
tomorrow and that the whole state of Baja is dry from noon
Saturday until noon Monday.  Interesting rule, maybe U.S.
political elections could benefit from this idea.  Oh well, at
least we can't be tempted into getting baracho (drunk) and having
that sap our windsurfing energy.

Sunday, Feb 4

Another beautiful clear sunny morning in La Paz.  At about 9:00
am a noticeable wind line can be seen approaching La Paz from the
north.  Kirk tells us this a good sign for the day.  The north
winds are reportedly about 10 knots less in La Paz than at La
Ventana.  Sometimes, when its really raging at La Ventana, Kirk
will take some of the guests to Bahia de La Paz for some more
controlled 5.0 sailing.

As we pull into La Ventana at about 11:15, some of the campground
sailors are already out jamming around.  About noon I take out
the HiFly 274 and a 5.7.  The conditions are really fun.  There
is no land upwind of La Ventana for at least 500 miles, so the
wind is very steady.  Away from shore, the swells are nicely
formed and about 3-4 feet high.  Jumping is possible both on the
port (going out) and starboard (coming in) tacks.

A little later, the wind has increased, so I take out a Hifly 265
(8'8" plastic board, 93 liters, shaped by Randy French) with a
5.0.  What a blast!  The board handles beautifully in the chop,
and jibes wells, and the Ezzy sail is perfectly balanced.  The
only drawback I see with this board is the heavier plastic
construction keeps the jump heights down.

Craig is having a bit of a tough time in the stronger wind
conditions.  He ends up walking up the beach a lot during the
day.  The only downside I can see with the sailing at La Ventana
is that you really need to be a somewhat advanced sailor in order
to enjoy the 5.0 days with the sizable chop, and 5.0 seems to be
the predominate sailing condition here.  Intermediates need to be
pretty athletic and aggressive to handle these conditions.  And
unlike the Vela resort in Los Barriles, there isn't a structured
lesson program at Captain Kirk's.  Private lessons are available,
though, from Steve, one of the campground sailors that Kirk has
made arrangements with.

Monday, Feb 5

A north breeze is already blowing in La Paz in the morning.  Kirk
says that there is a good chance that the El Norte wind blew all
night at La Ventana; this means that there may be some good surf
kicking up.  Just downwind of Kirk's parcel and upwind of the
campground is a sandbar where a nice little surf break can form
if the north winds have been blowing continuously for a while.
Kirk says that about 20 days per season will see 3 to 6 foot
breaking surf over the sandbar (or about 1 day in 6 for those
interested in averages).

As we pull into La Ventana, we can see that it is definitely
already windy.  The chop is good sized and starting to break over
the sandbar.  Kirk says that as the tide gets lower during the
day, the break should get better.  I grab a 5.5 and try to get a
Seatrend 8'11", but both 8'11"s are already taken.  No problem,
people change boards often during the day and the boards free up
quickly.  I take out the Hifly 274 instead and start doing some
serious fast mogul sailing through the chop.  The conditions are
a bit much for this setup, though, and I find I'm sheeting out in
the gusts.  I come in and grab a 5.0 and a Seatrend 8'11" (96
liter, epoxy sandwich board) that has freed up.  The lighter
sailors are taking out 8'3"s and 4.2s.

Like the other Randy French shapes, the 8'11" is an excellent
handling board.  And the 5.0 Transformer sail by David Ezzy is
just perfect.  I can't say enough about quality of the French and
Ezzy equipment I used during this trip.  These guys have
obviously put a whole lot of time and effort into refining their
designs and the results are quite impressive.

I head over to the sandbar and find that a bunch of 2 to 3 foot
peaks are forming and breaking in various spots along the bar.
The waves line up pretty much parallel to the sailing reach,
though, so its not classic wavesailing like the Pacific side of
Baja gets in some spots.  Some guys are getting 10 foot airs on
the way out and doing fun S turns on the various peaks on the way
in.  I play around a little here, but keep away from the urchin
covered reef just upwind of the sandbar.  Further outside in the
rolling chop I'm getting some of the highest (about 6 feet) and
longest jumps I've ever gotten.  I'm not making very many outside
jibes, though.  Craig's out giving it his best and he definitely
gets his big-chop high-wind waterstarts down.  Kirk and a couple
of the real advanced guest sailors are getting jumps up to mast
high out in the chop.  One guest sailor flat lands a huge jump
and fractures the deck on the 8'3" Seatrend he's using.  The
repair job for this runs him $200.  All in all, another great day
of sailing.

Tuesday, Feb 6

Another kick ass day of wind at La Ventana.  The surf has dropped
and the sandbar is not really surfsailable, but the wind
increases throughout the day to the strongest we've seen yet.  I
start the day on a 5.5 and the Seatrend 8'11" and then move down
to the Seatrend 8'9" ATV and a 4.5.  The 8'9" (90 liters, epoxy
sandwich) is a large sailor's version of a no-nose flip tip wave
board.  It takes a little working with to figure out how to get
this board planing; I found it was easiest if you point it off
the wind and try to catch a swell, sort of like catching a wave when
surfing.  Once moving though, this board is an absolute delight.
I started to figure out how people can get such high jumps; on
these light boards, once you're in the air sheeted in and***
from the rig, it seems like you can ride the wind up as high as
you have the huevos for.

Craig spends $60 to take 3 hour private lesson from Steve.  Steve
is one of these 5% body fat guys camping on the beach all winter.
He's an expert sailor and a very good instructor.  Craig says it
was definitely worth the money and he got in some rides in the
footstraps using a 4.2.  Other guys are on 4.0s and small wave
boards.  We end the day thoroughly worked from four incredible
days of sailing.

As you might have already inferred, I give my highest
recommendations to La Ventana and Captain Kirk's operation there.
Those of you who sail at Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro probably
already know that Kirk is a super guy, a great personality and a
gracious host.  A great example of the kind of positive,
energetic people you tend to meet in this sport.  And you got to
love his shop slogan:  "SHRED LONG AND PROSPER!!"

Kirk has plans to build some palapas (rustic beach houses) at the
sailing site this summer, so that staying at site will be more of an
option next year.  There will also be a sail storage building
with a sun deck on top and other niceties.  The accommodation
choices for next season will probably be at the palapas on the
site or at a hotel in La Paz with a daily shuttle service.  Kirk
says he wants to keep the total guest count to a maximum of about
14, which is cool.

The word is starting to get out about La Ventana and there is a
sort of windsurfing driven land boom going on right now.  Rumor
has it that Mr. Bill's and Vela are also looking to acquire
beachfront land in La Ventana.  Some Americans and other
foreigners have bought beach lots to use as vacation property.
On both sides of the Captain Kirk's lot are beach sites bought by
American sailors we met.  Bottom line:  if you live on the West
Coast and are a reasonably advanced sailor, the best close winter
windsurfing destination is, without a doubt, La Ventana.

Anyway, hang loose, shred long and prosper, and all that ...

Gordon Bloom
Huntington Beach, California