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I’ve seen many Os­car-wor­thy pro­duc­tions in my life, but per­haps the most mem­o­rable was per­formed by a pod of gray whales at Lopez Ma­teos in the Sea of Cortez. Our panga, or small boat, was sur­rounded by these mag­nif­i­cent crea­tures as they spy­hopped, spouted, rolled over and dis­played their dis­tinc­tive flutes to an au­di­ence of starstruck on­look­ers. The dra­matic show reached its cli­max when sev­eral of the moms proudly brought their seven-weekold calves to the side of our craft and we reached out to touch them. It was pure magic and I like to be­lieve that both whales and hu­mans shared in the joy of this in­cred­i­bly spe­cial mo­ment to­gether. While whale watch­ing is def­i­nitely one of the high­lights of a trip to Baja Cal­i­for­nia, there are so many other note­wor­thy ex­pe­ri­ences to be had in this unique re­gion of Mex­ico. Lo­cated in the north­west sec­tion of the coun­try, Baja Cal­i­for­nia is an 800-mile nar­row penin­sula that sep­a­rates the Pa­cific Ocean from the Gulf of Cal­i­for­nia, also known as the Sea of Cortez. De­spite prox­im­ity to the U.S. and rapid growth in tourism, the vast ma­jor­ity of the area has re­mained a wild and un­tamed par­adise with an air of iso­la­tion that sets it apart from the rest of Mex­ico. Graced with mes­mer­iz­ing desert land­scapes, lush oases and rich ma­rine life, Baja is an en­tic­ing des­ti­na­tion that begs to be ex­plored in a myr­iad of ways.

The op­ti­mal sce­nario is to ply the waters in a boat, al­low­ing you to ap­pre­ci­ate the beauty of the sea and its vi­brant life, while also of­fer­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to en­joy ad­ven­tures on shore. Aboard Pa­cific Cat­a­lyst II’S M/V West­ward, pas­sen­gers spend time dis­cov­er­ing both mi­lieus from the com­fort of a trea­sured wooden ves­sel. The com­pany’s eleven-day Baja and the Sea of Cortez trip gives trav­el­ers the best of both worlds. And with only eight pas­sen­gers and a crew of four, you are guar­an­teed to have an in­ti­mate ex­pe­ri­ence with like-minded com­pan­ions.

De­signed by North­west Naval ar­chi­tect, L.E. “Ted” Geary, the West­ward is modeled af­ter a sal­mon can­nery ten­der and con­structed around a 1923 At­las en­gine. It was launched in 1924 as the flag­ship of the Alaska Hunt­ing and Cruis­ing Com­pany and pi­o­neered hunt­ing, fish­ing and adventure travel in re­mote re­gions of Wash­ing­ton, Alaska and Bri­tish Columbia. Over the years, the West­ward served an es­teemed clien­tele, in­clud­ing such well-known per­son­al­i­ties as Bing Crosby, Walt Dis­ney, John Wayne, E.F. Hut­ton, George East­man and Mar­jorie Mer­ri­weather Post.

In the mid-70s, the boat was pur­chased by Don­ald and Anna Louise Gumpertz and moved to Los

An­ge­les, where it be­gan cruis­ing the world, do­ing a 47,000-mile cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of the globe. Later, Hugh Reilly bought the West­ward and re­turned it to the Pa­cific North­west to re­sume her ca­reer as a char­ter and ex­pe­di­tion ves­sel in South­east Alaska.

To­day, the boat is owned by Bill and Shan­non Bai­ley, who run Pa­cific Cat­a­lyst II, an adventure travel busi­ness that op­er­ates small ship cruises in the Pa­cific North­west, South­east Alaska and Baja. The cou­ple also own the M/V Cat­a­lyst, an­other his­toric craft that had its begin­nings as the Uni­ver­sity of Wash­ing­ton’s first oceano­graphic re­search ves­sel back in 1932. Cap­tain Bill views him­self as a “stew­ard” of an im­por­tant piece of his­tory and be­lieves he has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to pre­serve a legacy of the past. He says, “I want to keep the old boats go­ing. Be­sides, I can’t think of an­other job I’d rather be do­ing. I have the best cu­bi­cle on the planet.”

The West­ward is still pow­ered by her orig­i­nal At­las en­gine and is listed with the U.S. Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places for her con­tri­bu­tions to mar­itime his­tory. The ves­sel has re­cently been com­pletely up­graded and ren­o­vated with an eye to pre­serv­ing the style and dé­cor of its by­gone roots. The West­ward is very com­fort­able, with four state­rooms, each con­tain­ing a dou­ble and a sin­gle bunk, set­tee, sink, toi­let, shower and closet. Though small, the cab­ins are cozy and con­tain the ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties. The rest of the boat con­sists of a sa­lon, din­ing area, kitchen, out­side deck, en­gine room, wheel­house and crew quar­ters, which are lo­cated down be­low.

Trips ei­ther be­gin in La Paz and end in Loreto or go in the re­verse di­rec­tion, but the ex­act itin­er­ary of spe­cific stops along the way can fluc­tu­ate, de­pend­ing on weather con­di­tions, in­ter­ests of the pas­sen­gers, wildlife ob­ser­va­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties and other fac­tors. The crew’s mantra re­gard­ing this as­pect of flex­i­bil­ity is sim­ply, “It’s the plan un­til it changes.” With that at­ti­tude, it’s easy to adapt to what­ever sit­u­a­tion arises. And with its small ca­pac­ity, the boat can en­ter ar­eas that larger crafts can­not, al­low­ing pas­sen­gers to ex­plore hid­den lo­cales in great depth.

Dur­ing the day, you’ll spend time view­ing the many species of birds and sea crea­tures from the boat’s deck. It’s very common to see a pod of bottlenose dol­phins rac­ing along­side the ves­sel or soar­ing mob­ula rays jump­ing out of the water and putting on an as­ton­ish­ing aer­o­batic dis­plays, only to land with a loud bang as they belly-flop back into the sea. Fri­gate­birds, Great Blue Herons, Heer­mman’s Gulls, Grebes, Pe­trels, Hawks and a count­less num­ber of birds grace the skies and the water. My head was spin­ning from look­ing in ev­ery di­rec­tion at the mag­nif­i­cent ar­ray of wildlife. It’s no won­der this re­gion

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