Sea of Cortez Expedition: Part II


Will Tyler Bradt and crew complete their Sea of Cortez expedition? Not if a few thousand angry seals have anything to say about it.


In Sea of Cortez Expedition: Part I, we followed Tyler Bradt and crew from Portland, Oregon to the Sea of Cortez, and finally to a remote island shore swarming with unhappy seals. Now, Sarah’s kayak has sprung a leak.

Triaks have serious watertight compartments and two 80-pound floats on each side – luckily, sinking one is hard, if not impossible, to manage. Sarah had hit a rock and split her dagger board sleeve almost in half. There was about an eight-inch by one-inch crack looking straight down to the bottom of the ocean; we needed to find a place to make repairs immediately before things got worse. I began leading the charge, trying to find a weak point in the seals’ line of defense. As we got near shore, the seals would charge into the water barking aggressively. They would then swarm together by the hundreds and charge us, bearing their teeth. I have had many animal encounters, and the seriousness of the seal charges was immediately clear – these were not animals we wanted to mess with.

The seals fended us off the island as Sarah’s boat continued to take on water. As we rounded the island’s tip, the cliffs pushed down straight into the water. The seals, with nowhere to beach themselves, disappeared back to their sanctuary – but this also meant there was no place to land our boats. Tying to work our way down the island as quickly as possible, we soon discovered a cove with a small beach etched into the back of it. We had found seal-free land! What we didn’t know is that this beach would become more hazardous than even the seals.

Room with a view. ©Tyler Bradt

Armed with fiberglass and JB Weld, we got to work on Sarah’s boat. And as the sun began to sink once again, we had a beautiful repair setting up for the next day’s crossing. Under another star-scattered sky, we pulled out our satellite phone and called a good buddy, Lane, for weather information. Weather forecasting is an art, and for us a lifeline – a bad forecast is worse than no forecast, and Lane was on top of his game for us. The team watched me as I listened intently. I hung up, and with a somber look, relayed the information to the team, “Three more days of stout northerlies”.

This was it. We had retreated as far as we could, and with our backs to the wall – literally, a cliff wall – this is where we would make our stand.

We surveyed the scene around us, optimistic that we would be fine in our current location. Either way, there was nothing we could do about it at the moment – a dark night with a half-repaired boat was no time to try and explore a rocky coast in search of a safer place.

The winds hit early, as usual. We climbed up a cliff into a ravine close to where we were camped, and then climbed the rest of the eight or nine hundred vertical feet to the top of the island. From here, we could get our bearings. What we saw was unlike anything any of us had ever seen. A wind vortex forming in the middle of the channel was causing an uproar of whitewater. It was about a mile wide and two miles long, and the power of it, even from miles away, was very evident – our crossing line would have been right in the middle of it, and had we have been there, we would have not stood a chance. The vortex sucked straight out into open ocean where the winds continued to grow. It was clear that we were in the only safe place: dry land. Or at least that’s what we thought…

After climbing back down the thorny desert cliffs, we encountered most precarious situation of the trip. Directly exposed to the north, our cove began to fill with thunderous waves, each one detonating on our small beach and pulling it into the sea. We worked quickly to haul the boats to safer ground – a small nook in the cove, just a few feet higher in elevation than the rest of the beach.

We had to earn the crossing to the last island on our route the hard way. We paddled like migrating baboons.

This was it. We had retreated as far as we could, and with our backs to the wall – literally, a cliff wall – this is where we would make our stand. The waves and tide continued to grow throughout the day.  Even standing as far back from the ocean as we could, the sea peppered us with spray and flying gravel as waves exploded on the beach in front of us. The situation was getting worse, and daylight was fading quickly.

I slept well that night despite the roar of the ocean. Boomer and Sarah didn’t sleep a wink. My theory was if it disaster was going to happen and we were going to get flooded out or have a wave land on our heads, I would certainly not sleep through it. Besides, Boomer and Sarah were stirred up to the point that I knew they wouldn’t be sleeping. The night passed uneventfully, although we were only about a vertical foot away from total disaster. And the next day was the same. We came as close as we possibly could to a catastrophe and got away with it.

We chased down whales, paddled with dolphins, and when the headwinds grew so strong that we couldn’t paddle, we’d unleash our kite-boards and have glorious shred sessions.

After three nights and two days pinned to the back of our little cove, the weather finally cleared enough for our next crossing. With our water and food rations dwindling rapidly, we were eager to get to the Baja Peninsula. We had to earn the crossing to the last island on our route the hard way. We paddled like migrating baboons and got to the island a few hours before dark. After losing a game of rock-paper-scissors to Sarah, we diverted our course to a large beach a good ways up the side of the island, hoping to camp there. Once there, we realized it was covered in bird poop and the smell was unbearable, so we descended the island once again to “Paradise Cliffs” where we watched the sun set on the last island of our crossing.

The next day, under a good breeze, we sailed into a small fishing camp called San Fransisquito in the middle of a three-mile-long white sand beach. We landed in front of the camp, and I walked up the beach to inquire about food and water. I asked about the bare minimums – rice and water. My response was, “Yes, we can get you that… and we also have beer if you would like”. The man gestured over his shoulder at a refrigerator with a clear glass door stacked the brim with cold Tecate. Our decision was made – we would be staying the night!

We had only covered about 60 miles of what we hoped would be an over 400 mile-long trip, and it had taken us a little over a week – a pretty bad mileage average. From here, we would be paralleling the Baja Peninsula, allowing us to paddling in bad weather without much concern and to cover greater distances. So we put our feet down and started making miles.

Now the days began to blend together and settle in that peaceful pace that long paddling trips do. We all but forgot about the day of the week or the day of the month. We were dropping out of the “real world” and connecting with the natural one. We tuned into the moon’s cycle, the tide swings, the wind trends, the times of day when the fishing was good, and the wave direction generated by the breezes. With every stirring breeze, we knew exactly how to fine-tune our sails to make the most miles and go the fastest. We chased down whales, paddled with dolphins, and when the headwinds grew so strong that we couldn’t paddle, we would beach ourselves, unleash our kite-boards and have glorious shred sessions. After thousands of miles of driving and thousands of dollars spent, we were at last living the experience that we had spent so much time and effort seeking out. We were at home in a different place every night.

But slowly the real world grew closer and closer . There were planes to catch and jobs to get back to. With following seas and perfect winds, we raced into Loretto, the point which marked the end of our expedition. We had just accomplished something unique to all of us, and we’d had the adventure of a lifetime. It wasn’t the thrill ride of a waterfall huck, but it was a beautiful experience where not a moment went by without acknowledgement, and it reinforced in all of us the drive to continue living life from one adventure to the next.