Cleopatra's Barge: The Search for a "Perfect" Baja Fishing Boat Logo
Cleopatra's Barge: The Search for a
"Perfect" Baja Fishing Boat



Nov. 22, 2000, by Gene Kira:

Did Cleopatra have a "perfect" barge for floating down the Nile?  I doubt it.

In thousands of years of human history, it seems that nobody has ever come up with a single "perfect" boat for anything. I'm sure that with the unlimited slave labor and cash she had at her disposal, Cleopatra probably owned a whole fleet of Nile barges, some for orgies, others for fishing, a super fast one for Saturday nights, and a couple of lightweight models for muddy, over-the-beach trailer launching when the Nile River was too low for the city launch ramp.

If I had been Cleopatra, I probably would have owned at least 15 or 20 barges, each designed for its special use, and none of them "perfect" for everything. Two-thousand years later and half a world away, it seems that we Baja fishing types find ourselves in the same boat as Cleopatra. The most FAQed question of all is: "What kind of boat should I buy for hauling down and fishing in Baja?"

After grappling with that very question for many years, and with only one slave (me) and very limited cash at my disposal, here's what I have to say about that: "It sorta depends."

Oddly enough, the initial cost of the project doesn't really seem to enter the equation. There is no way you're going to justify the cost anyway. (Never, never try to figure the cost per pound of the fish you bring home.) Almost regardless of your budget, you can probably afford the kind of boat you want. If you scrounge around, you can find a perfectly usable boat for about one-half to maybe even one-fifth of its price when brand new.

Maintenance and running costs are a different matter. The bigger the boat, the more time and money it takes to keep it running. A plastic kayak is free. A 15-foot aluminum with a small outboard is no problem. A simple, 18-foot center console is still fairly hassel-free. A 25-foot fly bridge cruiser with two big outboards and a bunch of extras will drive you half nuts. Fuel costs go up with size. For trailer boats of about 25-feet, this is rapidly approaching a dollar per mile.

Okay, so you don't care about that. You juz wanna go fishing, right? Here's how I look at the various classes of boats for Baja:

PADDLED BOATS: These are my favorite fishing platform. They are cheap, virtually maintenance free, and you can launch them almost anywhere. Except for special uses, think "kayak". Canoes are much more comfortable, sociable and fun, but not as seaworthy. Kayaks, properly used, are much safer. Sit-on-tops are easy to learn and use, but slow. To get around quickly, you need to buy and master a real sea kayak. Fishing from a paddled boat is a special, beautiful experience not to be missed. Fuel cost is about six tacos and two cervezas per day.

INFLATABLE BOATS 8-17 FEET: Classic "Zodiacs" used for everything, but ideal mainly as runabouts, dinghies and diving platforms. High maintenance, expensive, uncomfortable seating, wet ride. Very, very stable. Tremendous buoyancy and seaworthiness if undamaged. But prone to disaster if used for fishing (punctures). Prone to blowing about dangerously in high headwinds. Inflatable kayaks are toylike, not suitable for use at sea. (Folding kayaks, such as the Klepper, are "real" boats.)

SMALL ALUMINUM BOATS 12-15 FEET: These "tin" boats are a Baja classic. Very cheap and almost maintenance free. Very light. Up to about 15 feet, they can be carried on top of a van or pickup, and they can be manhandled into the water over the beach anywhere. No ramp required. They can even be launched by hand over small beach rocks. On a good day, you can fish anywhere. Big blue marlin have been caught from these boats. However, their lack of size limits them to fair weather only. Never use them when conditions may become rough. Simple 10-15 h.p. motors are easy to operate and very low maintenance. Simple pull-rope starting. Simple tiller control. No battery. Your "spare motor" is a pair of oars. With transom launch wheels, they can easily be hauled in and out of the water on any good beach. Fuel cost negligible.

ALUMINUM BOATS 16-17 FEET: A very awkward size for Baja. Too big to manhandle into the water easily, and too big to cartop, but not big enough to give you "big boat" seaworthiness. After all the fuss of trailering and launching, you are almost as weather-limited as the small boats. Requires hard dirt launch ramp or very good beach. Hard to rig bait tanks and other accessories because of weight and space limitations. Their 25-40 h.p. motors are too complicated for boat size, with power lift, separate control stations, separate oil tanks, electric start, etc. Not practical to row. Kicker motor required. Too heavy to haul out on beach with fewer than a dozen helpers. Fuel cost is moderate.

BOATS 18-23 FEET: Aluminum and fiberglass models available. A practical size for Baja. Requires trailering, but not a big problem on Mex 1. Smaller sizes easily trailered on dirt roads with some "cuidado." Enough room for bait tanks, etc. Enough seaworthiness to keep fishing when mild whitecaps appear. Big enough to think about sleeping aboard and light cruising. Best on paved launch ramps, but still possible on good dirt ramp or excellent, steep, firm beach. Complexity of 50-80 h.p. motors justified by boat size. Requires kicker motor. Fuel cost beginning to be a factor.

BOATS 24-25 FEET: Pushing the limit for safe trailering down Mex 1. To avoid problems, allow at least four days to Cabo. Dirt roads a problem due to lack of ground clearance, harmonic vibrations of suspension on rocks or washboard, and heavy weight in sand or mud. Enough size and seaworthiness to cruise short range and keep fishing in normal prevailing afternoon winds plus a bit more. Some bad weather capability, but should head for shelter if anything more than a stiff breeze shows up. Many "cabin cruisers" of this type are dangerously overloaded and top heavy, safe only in good weather. Big, strong launch vehicle required, preferably 4x4. Requires paved launch ramp or extraordinary hard dirt ramp. Beach launching almost impossible. Plenty of room for accessories. Fuel cost becoming a definite factor.

BOATS OVER 25 FEET: Still possible to trailer down Mex 1, but not easily, and with questionable safety. Anything is possible, but dirt roads an agonizing experience. Requires good paved ramp. Good platform for electronics and other toys. Enough space to carry dinghy or small inflatable on deck. Long range coastal cruising possible, but may require on-deck bladders or jerry cans. Some boats in this size range capable of riding out moderate bad weather. Fuel cost requires calculator with extra wide display.

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