Want a hot tip? The Pacific coast of Mexico, from the Gulf of California down the so-called Mexican Riviera, is the last great, untrammeled charter destination. If you've grown weary of the daily Caribbean race from harbor to harbor, fighting with dozens of yachts for anchoring room, then Mexico is the place for you.
Imagine a pristine day on the water. The sky is an unclouded, aquamarine dome, the air temperature is in the high 80s without a trace of humidity, and the sea is as tepid as a baby's bath. Your charter yacht glides into a protected island cove, where the water is so clear you can see the anchor on the bottom. Taking the tender ashore, you find yourself on a white crescent of sand unmarked by a single footprint. Aside from the warm wind whispering through rocks surrounding the cove, the silence is complete.
You may feel as though you are at the far ends of the Earth, but your island cove is just an hour from a major city with good international airline connections and a modern marina with all the frills.
We are aboard Big Easy, and there are few yachts as well suited to exploring the Gulf of California than this two-year-old, 126-foot Trinity. Maintained impeccably and loaded with water toys ranging from jet skis to a 34-foot Intrepid tender, she blends luxury and casual comfort in one package.
Her full-beam master suite, two large VIP staterooms and a fourth cabin with twin berths make her elegant and seaworthy. With a formal dining area, protected afterdeck, spacious flying bridge and an airy saloon, she's perfect for exploring Mexico.
If "location, location, location" is the mantra in real estate, then "crew, crew, crew is the equivalent phrase in yacht charter. Here is where Big Easy really stands out. Captain David Sloate's six-member crew is one of those rare teams whose members complement one another like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
Sloate has been with the owner of Big Easy for more than 15 years, and his easygoing manner belies his immense competence and encyclopedic knowledge of Pacific waters from Mexico to Alaska (where Big Easy spends her summers). More important, he has created an esprit de corps that is palpable. A guest aboard Big Easy is in good hands.
We joined Big Easy in La Paz, the social and political center of southern Baja California, near the heart of the Gulf of California. The Gulf is otherwise known as the Sea of Cortez, for the Spanish explorer Hernan Cortez, who once sailed its waters.
One of the delights of chartering the Pacific waters off Mexico is the easy trip: just over two hours from Los Angeles and Dallas, with direct flights and simple connections from across the U.S. You can go from sitting in your living room to sipping a frosty margarita on a Mexican beach in less time than it takes to reach similarly secluded charter destinations. La Paz and Cabo San Lucas have international airports and private aircraft services, as do the mainland cities of Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Bahia Navidad ("Mexican Magic, May), Big Easy's winter base.
The Sea of Cortez is a fertile aquarium that supports an amazing variety of sea life. Just after we departed Marina Palmira in La Paz, Big Easy attracted several playful dolphin that romped in our bow wave as we eased into a quiet sea. It wasn't long before we saw the first of several marlin leaping in pursuit of smaller creatures. A school of pilot whales snorted and whuffled alongside us for a while, and sea turtles watched us pass with their prehistoric eyes.
We cruised north to Espiritu Santo, a volcanic island with a ragged shoreline indented by one perfect cove after another, all with sand beaches and water as clear as gin. The jagged cliffs and rocks are diverse, ranging from the reddish-black of rusted steel to softly sculptured swirls that suggest a meringue pie.
We dropped a lunch hook in Ensenada Grande, a fjord-like gash in Isla Partida, which is joined to Espiritu Santo by a sandbar. Aside from the huts of seasonal shark fishermen, both islands remain just as Cortez must have seen them. Thanks to efforts by Mexico's government and a pair of nature charities, the islands will stay this way for future generations-they were recently purchased declared national parks, preserving what ecologists call a "natural laboratory. Even better, the charities and government plan to do the same with a chain of 10 islands that extends from Espiritu Santo deep into the Sea of Cortez.
As soon as the anchor was down, Sloate's well-trained team swung quickly into action. The SeaDoos were launched, and the Intrepid was readied for shore excursions. Best of all, chef Joanne Lockhart laid out an alfresco feast on Big Easy's shaded afterdeck. Grilled fresh lobster, warm goat-cheese salad and a dessert of bread pudding with caramel-rum sauce made it apparent that this wasn't the time to count calories.
Lockhart, who said she began reading cookbooks when other children were reading fairy tales, is one of those rare natural talents who combines exquisite flavors with beautiful presentation. She met her husband, first mate Billy Lockhart, when they worked together aboard a cruise ship. Their switch to charter is clearly a loss for the cruise industry.
Equally talented is chief stewardess Michelle Trueblood, who has a well-deserved reputation among charter clients for knowing just when the champagne and margaritas need refreshing.
Ashore were the remains of the area's centuries-old pearling industry, now gone after a mysterious blight killed the oysters. From the days of the Spanish explorers to the 1940s, pearls gathered from the Sea of Cortez adorned the crowns of Europe. In the area's undiscovered Cave of the Dead Beasts, local Indians once left each season's finest pearls as offerings to the gods.
None of the guests aboard Big Easy took an afternoon siesta, because the water was too inviting, the beach too empty and the water toys too much fun. Guests chartering for the first time in the Sea of Cortez should be warned that this area is unlike any other charter destination in the world. You won't find lush hillsides, thick jungles or much vegetation other than the tall sahuaro cactus. The land is parched and baked, without softness, and the mountains are jagged sentinels in the distant sea haze.
But there is much pleasure to be found in an empty cove, especially when the water is warmer than the air and the sun drifts low in silence-with no disco music wafting from shore.
Heading south, Big Easy tucked into the lee of Bahia de la Ventana for the night, and an eerie sea mist soon blocked the lighthouse from view. For dinner, we had Coquille St. Jacques in a lemon-butter sauce-or wait, was it the beef Wellington? Maybe it was the osso bucco. It all blurs together in a savory orgy of calories, so suffice it to say the cuisine was exceptional.
With more time (Big Easy was hurrying to meet a charter date in Alaska), we could have lingered at Palmilla, using Big Easy's shore van to explore nearby San Jose del Cabo, with its tree-lined streets and shops selling intricate silver jewelry. Or, we could have visited Todos Santos, a colonial Spanish town filled with art galleries. The Eagles wrote their famous song about Todos Santos' eclectically restored Hotel California, and the Santa Fe restaurant is renowned for its Italian/Mexican haute cuisine.
Our charter ended in Cabo San Lucas, a world-class sportfishing spot and glitzy tourist destination, where you can have yourself photographed hanging upside down like a trophy catch at the Giggling Marlin bar, dance into the wee hours at Squid Roe, or spend the days trolling for trophy-size fish.
If perfection really is in the details, then Big Easy is perfection. From the crystal bedside decanters of water to gauze-wrapped chocolates; from silk and linen coverlets to the Picasso painting in the day head, Big Easy will be hard to forget.
Contact: The Sacks Group, (954) 764-7742, www.sacksyachts.com, or any charter broker. Big Easy charters for $65,000 per week in Mexico and $72,000 per week in Alaska, plus expenses.