Ok so, so far I have tried to keep up on the blog by writing about the last place we visited before we moved on to the next place. But that plan was foiled when we headed down the coast of Baja. Scarce internet and limited time at anchor made it nearly impossible to chronicle as we went. It is now nearly a month later and so much has happened that I can’t imagine recording it all, let alone sharing any deeper insights I have had along the way. So consider this an unorganized attempt at just getting something down … I will fill in later as time becomes available.
On October 27, we left San Diego with about 130 other boats on a 10 day trip down the west coast of the Mexican Baja Penninsula to Cabo San Lucas, in an organized rally called the Baja HaHa. This was the 21st occurrence of this annual event.
After 350 nm and four days and three nights at sea, Rick and I were very happy to get to anchor at the first stop, Turtle Bay, about half way down the coast.
I won’t lie, it was hard waking up after no more than three hours of sleep in the middle of the night to take a solo shift at the helm. We rotated at the helm for 3 hours each – change of shift was the time to modify the sail configuration, chart the log entries, etc. We used an alarm clock and did pretty well with committing to it on time so the other could sleep, but we were both sleep deprived to a degree that made us both less than completely alert 24 hours per day. This is one of the drawbacks of having a small boat: a third crew member isn’t really very practical. A small boat also goes slower, which makes the length of time on the water before anchoring even longer! They say after a while that your body gets used to sleeping less hours at a time, but not in just four days. I actually had no problem falling asleep right away, but Rick did – I am not sure if it was biological or just that he worried more, but when he did finally crash, he was out for the duration! We tried to grab bigger chunks of sleep during the day when the other could more easily be on watch for a longer period alone.
There is a good-sized village at Turtle Bay; the Baja HaHa is probably the biggest event there all year. They set up cocktails at the beachfront palapa restaurants, transport boaters to and from the beach, and provide a modicum of services and supplies like fuel, eggs, fishing line and laundry, all of which we used.
Our second day there, the Baja HaHa organizers threw a potluck party on the beach, as they always do.
The first leg down to Turtle Bay offered light winds – we motored about one third of it, but deployed the sails whenever the winds got up to 8 to 10 knots or so. But as we sat in Turtle Bay, a big storm was hitting Northern California and sending wind down our way, and a hurricane was developing off of Southern Mexico and sending big southern swells up the coast – not ideal conditions for another sleep-deprived journey. The HaHa organizers took the advice of their paid weather router firm, and delayed the fleet’s departure. Meanwhile, a group of maybe 30 boats or so, mostly bigger, heavier boats, decided to brave the weather and go down to the next anchorage anyway.
The conditions hadn’t changed that much after we delayed a day, but without much explanation, the Grand PooBah of the Baja HaHa proclaimed on very short notice the next morning that the Fleet would leave that day to continue down the coast. In retrospect, it could be argued that the group who left earlier had an easier time of it. The second leg down to Bahia Santa Maria brought wind gusts up to 30 knots at night with 10 foot seas abeam. It was challenging and uncomfortable. At one point, a wave washed over the boat from the side and drenched Rick. During my watch, I would brace myself with my arms outstretched on the pushpit on both sides to keep myself from being tossed from one side of the boat to the other. We sailed double-reefed on the main and jib almost the entire way. As our tack brought us further out to sea, the waves and gusts increased but we made more way towards our destination; as we tacked heading back towards land, the seas and winds settled a bit but our heading was further off the rhumb line and our speed decreased. The good news is that it was far too exciting to get sleepy on watch! Even better news was that our high-powered autopilot steered flawlessly in spite of the difficult seas (I heard not everyone’s did), so we didn’t have to hand steer during all of that turbulence. While other boats had torn sails and broken booms and motor failures, all of Cool Change’s systems held up flawlessly, and Rick and I managed to survive without injury. Also, we learned a thing or two more about our rigging, which included that we need to run a second preventer line so no one needs to go to the bow to rerun it when we jibe.
So by the time we arrived at the anchorage in Bahia Santa Maria in mid-afternoon, we were really exhausted. Some of the faster boats had arrived much earlier in the morning or even the night before. To make up for the extra day spent in Turtle Bay, the Grand PooBah decided we were leaving the next day for Cabo San Lucas. To arrive in Cabo in daylight, we knew we had to leave before the fleet – we had to leave at midnight that very same night. I dragged Rick reluctantly to the beach party but we didn’t stay long, favoring instead, going to bed early so we could wake up and leave at midnight.
Although I suppose I am painting a picture so far of only sleep deprivation or harrowing seas, the truth is that the time at sea was captivating, romantic, and addictive. There is nothing like it. A rhythm settles in that calms the soul. Even in rough seas, there is a sense of feeling connected to nature, of getting real. Just around dinner time every night, as the sun was setting, Rick and I got together to enjoy a single shot of rum and reflect on the day just passed and the night ahead. It always felt like such an accomplishment to have experienced yet another day out there, no sight of land, water to the horizon in every direction. And especially early in the morning or just after sunset, when relaxing and enjoying the change in light, the fishing reel would start spooling out with a new catch on the hook. Or a school of dolphins would butterfly across the bow, or a whale would spout off in the distance.
The last leg to Cabo San Lucas, we were able to sail a large part of the way, and the seas and winds were much calmer. We had a full moon, and lots of boats around us as they caught up with us and then passed us by! But because we left seven hours or so before everyone else, we were able to arrive no later than at least the slowest third of the fleet. We did manage to snag a very heavy set of floats in the middle of the night when sailing over the top of an undersea mountain about 400 feet below us, but fortunately, they caught on the bow instead of the rudder or prop, and we got them loose with a boat hook. Other than that, or last leg was uneventful and beautiful.