We show our girls how this shallow shipwreck went from wreck to reef.

Deciding on a favorite anchorage is an incredibly subjective process based on location, season, weather, and overall experience.  I’ve heard of many great anchorages in the Sea of Cortez, but my favorite thus far has to be Bahiá Salinas on Isla Carmen in the Loreto area.  We have returned there four times now, each time under different conditions, but it wasn’t until our last visit that I was able to fully appreciate all the bay had to offer.  We arrived there just before the COVID-19 related beach shutdown began and having received formal notification from the local authorities to avoid all water recreation, we accepted that despite enjoying much of the bay, we missed our opportunity to explore the underwater shipwreck – something I was really looking forward to given it’s shallow depth.  Even since regulations lightened up, prevailing southern winds and swell meant returning to this southern facing bay would have to wait for another season or perhaps not at all.  This was painfully confirmed as we stubbornly tried to anchor there later in the season and lasted one restless night in the swell (should’ve taken the hint upon noticing we were the only boat in the anchorage).  Fortunately, we had a brief weather window following Hurricane Genevieve that permitted our return and were finally able to enjoy a much anticipated snorkel on the shipwreck amidst our hiatus in heading south.

An unexpected discovery…

We had just arrived in the Loreto area in spring and anchored in a crowded anchorage on the west side of Isla Carmen after a long day of motor sailing from Punta San Telmo.  Anticipating strong northern winds and seeking more swing room, we touched base with friends from Leeann who had just crossed the Sea of Cortez to a bay on the east side of the island.  They described this beautiful, large bay with a white sandy beach in which they were currently the only occupants.  Needless to say, it didn’t take long to get the motor running the next morning to head over and check it out!

Bahiá Salinas did not disappoint: Turquoise waters, expansive white sandy beach with gentle surf, occasional turtle sightings, a salt mine that closed down in the ‘80s, and a sunken shipwreck to explore.  From a sailor’s perspective Salinas is a wide open bay with gradually sloping depth, a sandy bottom with good holding, and decent protection from all but southern winds – perfect!  We arrived with just enough time to enjoy a beach day, catch up with Leeann, hike to the salt flats, and briefly explore the old salt mine before a patrol boat delivered a notice with specific regulations due to COVID-19: no water recreational activities, beaches are closed, please stay on your boat….my hopes of snorkeling the wreck fizzled!  Despite this minor setback, we understood the rationale and appreciated the clarity and professionalism with which the information had been delivered during a time when fear of the unknown seemed to prevail.  We were also grateful to be permitted to stay during such an unpredictable time when international borders were closing and cruisers were unable to leave ports in other parts of the world.  No complaints here – the water was clear, the sunsets were beautiful, the turtles were curious enough to make their presence known, and the soothing sounds of the waves on the beach made our stay; albeit sequestered on our boat; wonderful.

The calm after the storm…

After waiting out the last remnants of weather from Hurricane Genevieve, we realized we had one more shot at returning to my beloved Salinas and hopefully snorkeling this time.  My fingers were crossed, but I knew the swell could be rough, visibility could be poor, or something onboard could fail (as history had demonstrated) during our long trek out to the back side of the island.  Despite my trepidation, we arrived once again to an empty bay and anchored in our usual spot.  This time, the lack of boats did not surprise us given how late in the season it was.  The next morning I awoke with anticipation to find a calm sea state and crystal clear water showing us our anchor dug in on the bottom…as long as our temperamental dinghy engine would start, we were snorkeling!

The thing about shipwrecks…

The 120 foot tuna boat sunk in about 35 feet of water, so it makes for a great snorkel.  It is well marked with a buoy so we made our first pass in the dinghy from this point to get our bearings.  First pass – nothing seen…hmmm…pretty sure we’re right over it – is visibility THAT bad over here?!  Second pass – this time not into the glare of the morning sun – the fish begin to sparkle like diamonds on the enormous structure lying beneath – we’re here!  Everyone geared up with excitement coupled with apprehension and made their way into the water.  I say apprehension because this was indeed a ship that had sunk and we were now enjoying it for purely recreational purposes.  There is a whole different perspective now living aboard a floating home that too could suffer a similar fate.  Not to mention, the only other shipwreck the girls had experienced (from the surface) was the RMS Rhone in the British Virgin Islands that sank during a hurricane taking the lives of at least 123 people in the 1800s and now is an eerie dive that we’ve described in intense detail to the girls.  Shipwrecks have tragic tales to tell and perhaps folklore and film have filled our minds with images of skeletons or large pelagic creatures lurking in the darkness, so I wasn’t surprised at the girls’ initial apprehension on this somewhat dark morning.

Our daughters have become absolute mermaids on this trip, so while that boosts my confidence about their abilities in the water, I’m always worried about them pushing their limits, especially here, with so many dark cavities to explore.  Even so, the shallowest structures of the wreck are only a few feet underwater at places, making this an easy wreck to explore from the surface.  The reef that has emerged houses the largest schools and most diverse group of fish we’ve seen yet.  The visibility was great and everyone’s gear (for once) was working!  We even saw a turtle seemingly unbothered by our presence until she determined it was time to disappear into the depths of the bay.  The greatest part of the experience was that we could introduce the girls to the wonder of exploring a shipwreck that has been reborn as a coral reef, now buzzing with activity; without the need for dive tanks.

After we had our fill of observing huge schools of Mexican Goatfish, following a pair of large King Angelfish, and appreciating the enormity of this vessel, we headed back to Tulum with a greater appreciation for Salinas.  For the girls, we had dispelled the myth and mystery of exploring a shipwreck.  They had been allowed to appreciate the transformative power of Mother Ocean, breathing new life into what was once a tragedy.   I am remiss that I don’t know the full story of the shipwreck and despite some searches, can’t come up with anything beyond that it was a 120-foot tuna boat that sank after a butane tank exploded and the ship caught fire in 1981.  I am thankful for the opportunity to explore the reef that has grown around it and to pay homage to what was once afloat with my family.

LF2SF respects the rules and customs of the places we go, which is why we didn’t get off the boat or snorkel this wreck earlier in the season when most water sports where shut down in the Loreto area.  Regulations have eased somewhat in the area so we took the chance to get in this snorkel in surprisingly clear water.  I was surprised at the abundance of fish life and taken aback to see an obviously very relaxed turtle slowly swim away as we approached one of the larger inner cavities.  We didn’t penetrate or touch the wreck in any way, respecting the area and it’s life as we took only pictures (and it’s in a national park).  The HelmsMistress works hard to bring you quality content once per week and we hope you’ll continue to read her stories. If you like her stories, the very best compliment she can get is your decision to keep reading our posts!  Have a great day.


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