Measuring San Felipe's Famous Tidal Run Logo
Measuring San Felipe's Famous Tidal Run



By Gene Kira, March 4, 2002, as published in Western Outdoor News:

Last week had the "biggest" full moon of the year--about seven percent bigger than average--a phenomenon caused by the fact that the moon's orbit around the earth is slightly egg-shaped, and last week it was about as close to us as it ever gets.

The middle of the week was also a period of very high tidal range, and that was all the excuse I needed to drive down to Baja with a GPS unit, and settle that burning, age-old question: "How far does the tide go out at San Felipe?"

The old shrimp fishing town of San Felipe, Baja California, Mexico, of course, sits at the northern end of the Sea of Cortez, and because of that, it has a maximum vertical tidal range of about twenty feet during the full and new moons. At extreme low tide, the town is a long, long way from the edge of the sea, and I've always wondered just how far out the water really goes horizontally.

There are all kinds of numbers bandied about on this subject. The highest sincere estimate I ever heard was "a mile-and-a-half." It's easy to believe almost any guess. When you're standing there, you don't really think about it, and it sure looks like a heck of a long way out there.

To celebrate the occasion, I went down to West Marine in San Diego and bought a hot new GPS unit, a tiny little Garmin eTrex, that's only 4.25 inches long, and needs no external antenna. It was not only the smallest GPS unit on the shelf, but also the cheapest. Hook-up!

Suspicious, however, that such a "little toy" couldn't really be that accurate, I tested it on the driveway by putting the instruction booklet down on the ground, walking around the property, and navigating back to it. Dead center! Right back to the middle of the booklet. These things are getting pretty good.

On the way to San Felipe, I picked up Gary Graham, of Baja On The Fly, as my official observer. Gary is an IGFA rep for Baja California, and hey, if I was going to drive 500 miles for this dumb test, I at least wanted to make it "official." Gary said he was available, as long as I fed him good, and didn't make him fish with worms.

We had a great Chinese dinner in Mexicali, spent the night at a San Felipe motel, and at 7:15 a.m. the next morning, we were standing on the beach at the venerable launch ramp of the El Cortez Motel. Our tide calendar was right on the money. The tide really was w-a-a-a-a-y low, which we had just confirmed by eyeballing it at the artificial harbor, where about half of the sandy bottom was exposed. (Mental note: thanks to a narrow channel of deep water leading to it, the new launch ramp in the southwest corner of the harbor was still wet enough to be used by the local pangueros, but just barely.)

It was the Moment Of Truth.

With my new GPS unit, I took a position fix at the El Cortez ramp, and we walked out across the wide mud flat towards the water.

At the very edge of the slack low tide, I took another position fix and fiddled with the buttons of the GPS unit. Ta-dah! I'm happy to report that at the center of San Felipe, at the bottom of a medium-strong low tide, the water goes out about 0.23 miles, or about 1,214 feet.

This isn't an absolute maximum, since our tide was only listed as a minus 2, and according to my calendar, another 3 feet or so is possible. But it's close enough to say that "about a quarter-mile" is a good and honest answer, if somebody should ever ask you how far the tides go out at San Felipe.

(Related San Felipe articles and reports may be found at's main San Felipe information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the San Felipe area in "Mexico Fishing News.")