This past weekend, I made the annual pilgrimage to San Carlos on the
Pacific side of Baja, Mexico. For those of you unfamiliar with this
place, it's pretty much a rugged, remote section of the Baja Coast with
great wind and surf. It's about 5 hours from the US border, plus
another two down a rutted, washed out dirt road - almost 40 miles of
misery in all (especially after driving all night)! :-). For die-hard
wave sailing, however, it's a paradise.
Below you'll find general info about San Carlos, a trip report and a
board review of my new Mistral Ecstasy (yes, you have to wade through
the trip report to get to the board report! :-)
General Info about San Carlos
Camping in San Carlos is - well, primitive at best. This place is about
as desolate as anywhere on Planet Earth. It's only saving grace is the
incessant wind that blows all day and all night (at least when I've
been there) which keeps things cool and keeps the bugs away. There are
absolutely *no* amenities - you need to bring everything you'll need
for the duration of your trip. The local Ejida (landowners
association?) charges you $2.00 per person per night, and sometimes the
"rangers" (a beat up pickup truck full of Mexicans :-) have things like
fresh fish and abalone for sale/trade for beer. If you're lucky enough
to have a small plane, there is a small dirt airstrip right there which
gets very regular use.
There are really two distinct sailing spots in San Carlos, separated by
a point. The south side of the point has a nice reef that makes even
big surf peel off in slow, gentle, mushy rights that you can ride a
long way down the beach (I've heard rumors that pro Rich Meyers rode
one wave all the way south to the fish camp about a mile down). Trouble
is, if the wind is really offshore there is a big wind hole right in
the impact zone, which is often *** people and equipment. Launching
is also sort of a headache (especially at low tide) since you have to
walk out 100 yards or so to get past the rocks. No nice sandy beach.
The other spot on the north side of the point has a fairly long sandy
beach and a much easier launch with more consistent winds inside. The
surf usually isn't as nice, but there is an interesting break further
offshore that everyone calls the Bambura(sp?) (pronounced bomb-BOOR-ah).
It's not that wide, but peaks up into these great steep ramps that make
for major air if you're so inclined.
Each time I've been there, the water temp has been in the high 50s or
low 60s(F), so a full suit is a necessity, preferably one with a smooth
skin torso to keep the wind from cutting through the suit.
If you surf as well, you might consider bringing a big (7'6" or bigger)
board and catching the offshore dawn patrol. The waves peel off the point
very nicely and though they're a little slow, the rides are long and you
can get several cover-ups on one wave.
The San Carlos warriors (Jim, Rob and I) left San Diego at about
12:30am on Thursday morning for a rather uneventful trip south. The
spring rains in Baja had a definite impact on the wildlife - mice,
rabbits and coyotes were in abundance and many of them narrowly missed
becoming hood ornaments. I guess they weren't expecting vehicles on
*their* road at 4am. :-) We hit the Dirt Road from Hell at about 6am.
The first half wasn't too bad, but it got very rutted and slow after
passing the Abelardo Rodriguez ranch buildings (at the 29km marker).
Didn't need to use 4wd, but high ground clearance was a must. It's a
pretty rough couple of hours after driving all night...
We got to the "campground" at about 8am, with the wind blowing a steady
15 knots offshore. Despite being dog-tired, we managed to set up camp
(i.e. construction of a wind barrier) and rig up our 5.0s before
getting some desperately needed shut-eye. The wind built up to about 20
knots or so and clocked around to be side-onshore, so we hit the water
on our slalom boards and 5.0s about 2pm. The usual wind hole had filled
in quite nicely, but the surf was only about 1/3 logo high (2-3 foot).
It was actually really fun since the wind was very consistent, as were
the waves. Also, since I hadn't sailed in the surf since last year's
San Carlos trip, it was nice to have a medium wind day to get back into
it on my trusty, easy-to-sail 9'2" Seatrend. The wind held until about
5:30, which was plenty enough sailing for the day.
We got up about 8am, and it was obvious right away that it was
going to *crank*. After breakfast we took up walk up to the foothills
and looked over the whole area - there were already big whitecaps north
of the Bambura and the wind was clocking around from dead offshore to
side offshore already. We stopped and chatted with a group camped on
the bluffs by the Bambura - apparently, they'd been there for 7
weeks(!!) and there had been hardly any wind at all the entire time -
nothing better than 5.5 weather. They were sporting big grins that the
wind was finally turning on and the 4.X sails could come out of wraps
We headed back to camp and waited for the wind to clock around
some more - there was a huge wind shadow behind the point. We rigged
4.6s while waiting, and I finally ventured out with my 5.0 on the 8'4"
Ecstasy for the Very First Time. Bad Choice! As soon as I hit the wind
line I was hopelessly overpowered and after getting slammed, made a
beeline back to shore to get my 4.6. Meanwhile, Jim and Rob had already
grabbed their 4.6s and were getting worked by the gusty conditions, so
they headed upwind to the Bambura while I tried to was getting my 4.6
from the beach. The wind had cranked up even more in the 15 minutes I
was on the beach - by the time I got back out, I was again overpowered
and had to go back in and rig (grrr!) my 4.2. Good Choice! No longer
overpowered, I was able to get sail upwind and meet Jim and Rob at the
Bambura. Sailing the new Ecstasy was incredible - the board is
fantastic! (see Board Report below).
We spent a couple of hours sailing at the Bambura, with Jim and
Rob getting big air off the ramps while I got used to the Ecstasy and
practicing my dunk jibes. :-) Even though I didn't really complete any
jibes, I got them close enough so that the rig and I were both set up
for any easy waterstart.
We headed downwind about 3pm for lunch and so Jim and Rob could
get their 4.0s, as they were getting really overpowered on their 4.6s.
Trouble is, the wind had other ideas. By the time we got back in the
water, it had notched up to sub 4.0 conditions and we were *way*
overpowered on the 4.0-4.2 rigs we had. I gave up at this point - I
didn't have the right mast or booms to rig my 3.7 and I didn't think I
could handle it even if I did. The water was liquid fury at this point
- like something out of the "Victory at Sea" WWII film clips. The chop
was 2-3 foot about every 5 feet(!) with 4-5 foot swells every 30 feet
or so. Jim was the only one with a riggable 3.7, so he went for it. The
3.7 had no problem pushing Jim's 165lbs to an almost-overpowered
session with only two other people in the water, all sailing 3.0-3.5
Eventually, Rob the *** couldn't stand it any longer and
managed to make his 4.0 plywood-flat and venture out for some abuse
(which he got in spades :-) while I sat on the beach and took pictures.
They finally quit about 6:30. Meanwhile, the wind had just about
destroyed our "tent city" camp, so I spent the next hour lashing
everything down again.
It proved to be a gorgeous evening - a very clear night with a
full moon over the water. Even better, Jim had brought a bunch of
fireworks that he got in Wisconsin while coming across the country a
couple of weeks before. Great entertainment to cap an exciting day!
Saturday morning dawned much like Friday, gorgeously sunny and
clear with "big wind" written all over it. By 8am, big whitecaps
had formed offshore and we were in the water sailing our 4.0s by 10am.
The surf had been running about 2-4 foot on Friday, but it had dropped
back down to 1-3 foot. Since it was really gusty we headed right for
the Bambura and were fully powered up for a good hour. At that point we
headed to the beach and did a board swap, as Jim wanted to try the
Ecstasy and I wanted a chance to compare it with his 8'8" asymmetric
wave board. The wind hadn't died off a bit, so we sailed for another
hour. Jim and Rob were really shredding the Bambura, getting great
rides off the 8-10' waves it was throwing up and getting massive air on
occasion. At one point Jim attempted a jump off an already-breaking
wave and almost ended up doing a backwards loop on the Ecstasy. Somehow
he managed to pull out and land without breaking anything. Meanwhile, I
was getting much more comfortable with getting air off the swells and
was delighted to pull off little 2-3 foot high floater jumps, which I'd
never done before. Eventually, I got a little too***y and tried
getting big air off a particularly steep face and ended up landing
Jim's glass board flat and exploded on impact. Got lucky, though. No
damage to me or the equipment.
By this time, we were pretty tired and traded boards again at the
beach, then headed downwind. I got unlucky on the first reach, however -
I caught a gust while unprepared and got a slammed while hooked in
and fully powered up. Amazingly, I didn't get hurt, but I snapped the
clamp portion of my F2 clamp-on harness lines and put a major kink in
my booms (cheapie Neil Pryde specials). I was able to limp back to the
beach without any further incidents. After gobbling some chow, I set to
work fixing up some old harness lines and re-rigging the 4.2 with
another set of booms, while Jim ventured back out with his 3.7 and Rob
with his completely depowered 4.0.
During lunch, the wind had notched up some more and I was kinda
worried about going out ...
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