Sugata in Altata

When we told people in La Paz that we were headed to Altata, we got two types of responses. One was, “Where’s that?” The other (always from people who hadn’t been there) was “You shouldn’t go there!” Altata is about 100 miles north of Mazatlan, on the mainland of Mexico. The first cruising boat came here in 2001, and since then more boats have followed. Last year there were about 8 boats that made it here. Cruisers are scared away by the tricky entrance to the bay, and the long (11 mile) trek up the unmarked channel, where it is easy to go aground if you don’t know where the deep water is.

We left La Paz on Thursday, January 10, and spent the night in nearby Caleta Lobos. Taking our 4.5 knot average speed into account, and guessing that high tide in Altata (the best time to enter) would be around 10:30am on Saturday, Todd and I got up at 4am on Friday to start our crossing of the Sea of Cortez. Soon after we pulled up anchor, I went below to get some more sleep. When I came back up shortly before 7am, we were through the San Lorenzo Channel and into the Sea. I took the helm, Todd got the sails up, and soon we were zipping along at around 7 knots!

Capn Nailbiter was worried about the sea state, fearing that the wind would pick up and create waves bigger than the 2 to 4 foot (and occasional 6 ft) swells were were seeing. In my mind I was composing an ad for the La Paz newspapers: “Lost: One pair of big girl panties, size XL, ‘Todd’ written on tag. Last worn off the Pacific coast.” I couldn’t mock Todd directly at the time, because he was really sea sick. Luckily I had nothing else to do but commit my sarcastic comments to memory, and just had to wait until we were comfortably anchored to let loose.

We had a great sail all the way across the Sea. Halfway there, we actually dropped the jib to try to slow ourselves down, because we didn’t want to have to bob around in the dark outside of Altata. The wind died for about half an hour on Saturday morning, but then picked up again, and we made it to the entrance just a little ahead of our target time. Since we had guessed at when high tide was based on tides in Mazatlan and Topolobampo, we decided to head towards the channel entrance.

We were using some GPS waypoints that Todd got from someone who had gone in to Altata just a couple of months ago. Still, as we approached the channel entrance, we were alarmed to find ourselves in 8 feet of water, just beyond some breaking waves! Todd quickly redirected us, and we were soon in much deeper water. We made it up into the long channel without any problems, but we were nervously watching the depth finder.

After an hour or so into the channel, we relaxed a bit and had some snacks. Then all of a sudden Capn Understatement said, “Uh oh.” I followed his gaze to the depth finder. We were in seven feet of water! Then six! Todd switched off the autopilot, and I threw the engine into neutral, and a second later the depth finder said 5 feet. A sudden lurch let us know we’d hit bottom. Luckily, Todd threw us into reverse and we pulled ourselves off into deeper water. A local shrimp fisherman soon zipped up to us, and directed us to the right, where we found deeper water. We proceeded to the town of Altata without incident. Koiya was especially relieved, because she had thought that if we ran aground the boat would be ripped apart! “No,” I said, “Here the bottom is sand, so we’d just have to sit and hope that it isn’t quite high tide. It would be embarrassing, though!”

We dropped anchor and launched the dinghy, and were soon visited by Bill, Lisa and Sparky of another Hans Christian named Beyond Reason. (Interesting side note for Marcus: Beyond Reason used to be named Restless, too!) They and another boat, Triple Stars, had been in Altata for a week, and they quickly gave us a report on the town.

We soon met Gustavo, owner of La Perla Restaurant, and famous as the cruisers’ friend in Altata. Altata is a pretty small town during the week, but on weekends, the sandy streets are filled with Mexicans from the nearby city of Culiacan.

The main street of Altata is lined with seafood palapas, and at high tide, some of the tables are partly in the water! We couldn’t resist going in at high tide to experience the ultimate in seaside dining. All the palapas serve shrimp, which is caught right here by fisherman who use large, colorful sails to drag their nets across the bay.

We’ve been eating well on board too! Koiya and I dug up a bunch of clams one afternoon, and I made clam chowder the following day. We also bought some shrimp that were so fresh, they were still kicking! Capn Squeemish couldn’t bear to kill them, so it was left to me, the quasi-vegetarian, to twist the heads off of them. We’ve definitely never eaten fresher shrimp! Tasty!

We also took a trip to a nearby town called Navoloto. Unlike La Paz, where as our friend Jens says, “There are more gringos than in San Diego”, this area doesn’t get a lot of American tourists, so people are curious about us and very friendly. In Navoloto, Koiya and I went into a department store to use the toilet, and when we came back outside, two school girls were taking Todd’s picture using their cell phones! “It’s like I’m Brad Pitt!” claimed Todd. “More like Brad Putt!” I replied. The girls had a hard time saying “Todd”, and we’ve been trying to come up with a Spanish name for him. Gustavo calls him either “Toro”, which means “bull”, or “Todo”, which means “all”. Todd likes “Toro”, and while I’ll grant that he has a large head, I don’t think he really has the personality to pull off that name!

We also met with the Port Captain here in Altata, who is excited about having more cruisers visit. He is friendly, capable, and speaks perfect English. He asked us to call him if we need anything, and even gave us his personal cell phone number. He wants us to tell everyone that Altata is a hospitable place that will welcome you with open arms. We assured him that we’ve had such a good time here, we don’t doubt that many others will soon follow. (I left his card back on the boat, but when I get internet access again I will post his contact info as a reply to this post.)

We’ll probably stay here another day or so, and then head south to Isla Isabella (a nature preserve- Todd is excited to see the boobies because he doesn’t know those are a type of bird) and San Blas. We may not have very good internet access for a while. Plus, the inverter (which converts 12-volt to 120-volts on the boat, and lets us use our laptops) died on us yesterday. Ah well. Guess we’ll just have to eat more shrimp, and drink more beer! See our Altata pics here:


7 Responses to “Sugata in Altata”

  1. Todd Huss says:

    The GPS waypoints we used to enter Altata were posted here:
    and while the waypoints are generally good they take you right across the sand bar of the Panga entrance which is where our boat with a 6 foot draft touched bottom. There’s another set of waypoints published by s/v Tomboy that fully takes into account having to steer to starboard around the sand bar on your way in. s/v Beyond Reason (also 6ft draft) used Tomboy’s waypoints to enter at low tide without incident so we’ll be using those waypoints on our way out. For the waypoints scroll down to the Google Earth map of the entrance in this PDF:

  2. Sharon Flynn says:

    Can we come for dinner?!? Your shrimp dish looked yummy! So, did you sign the wall and if so what number are you? We are curious about how much Altata has changed since the first reports in 2001. I enjoyed reading the logs you mention above, Todd, and can see why entering at night could be too exciting. What an interesting town. Hopefully it won’t be spoiled by too much development.

    On to the nature preserve..let us know about the boobies!


  3. sv Sassona says:

    Hi, we heard about you guys from Passat. We are a kid boat with Genoa 14 and Jordyn 10 aboard. We’re in Mazatlan in the el Cid right now, hopefully we’ll run into you guys some time. The closet thing in the el cid to our age is our puppy, Jess!


  4. Uncle Bumper says:

    Hey, I have a mega inverter somewhere in Bachan’s garage I think for RV’s and the like. Don’t know the joules rating, but it is large (cost $500 at radio shack). Should I mail it to Eduardo or something? Need specs? Better email me if so.

  5. Edward says:

    I absolutely love this blog…keep up the good work. Do you have a log of all of the Captain …’s that you’ve called Todd? It would make a good game…guess the event from the captain crack.

  6. larry says:

    Sometimes it pays not to know the full picture. Navolato is one of the most violent cities in the cartel drug war going on in Sinaloa. Fortunately, the mobsters usually kill eachother, but sometimes innocents get caught in the crossfire. I’m glad you, your family and your boat made it out of there unharmed.

  7. Franceska says:

    hey my families from Altata and i love going there every year. Im happy to see that people arent scared to see other places and meet wonderful people. 🙂