Our twelve day journey down the coast of Baja Mexico was an adventure that we will never forget. The vast array of experiences varied so much that once we arrived in Cabo San Lucas we referred to the trip as “The Good , The Bad, and The Ugly”. There were nights with a moon so full and bright it was as if we were sailing in daylight. On the contrary we had nights so dark you could not see your hand in front of your face and a bazillion stars stretched across the horizon. Those nights were particularly spectacular as they brought some of the most amazing sightings of shooting stars. We’re talking falling stars with rainbow tails and sparkling star dust as they crossed the sky. The winds were everything from none to perfect to blow the hair right off your head. The latter providing for some wild rides with sleepless nights and aching bodies. We have met some really great people both Mexicans and fellow Baja Ha-Ha cruisers that have all been wonderful, interesting, and kind. Above all our skills and stamina have been put to the test. We have discovered our limits and sometimes been pushed beyond them. Living full time on a boat while traveling the open seas is magical yet challenging. With each wonderful blessing we have received we have also been tested with some new difficulty. I think our mighty crew mate Ralph said it best “Sane people don’t do this”.
The adventure began on October 26th. We left the San Diego harbor with the Baja Ha-Ha fleet in a spectacular fashion. At the shot from the America’s cup starting shotgun the fleet of 130 boats paraded out of the harbor past the cheers of spectators and fire boat cannons shooting plumes of water into the air. Once past the chaos and into the open waters of the Pacific Ocean we put the months of work behind us and sailed into Mexican waters through the Coronado Islands. With light winds we were able to sail all day using our light wind jib and full mainsail and our Aries windvane steering the boat steadily to course. As evening fell we dropped sails, started our motor and easily fell into a night watch routine of three hour shifts. We relaxed, laughed and reveled in the fact that we were finally underway. As with so many things in life, the beginning of this adventure marked the end of a long trail of hard work and planning.
The first challenge presented itself while eating breakfast on day two of our journey. During the night a Kraken had eaten the servo rudder off of our Aries wind vane. There would be no more self steering while under sails for the remainder of the journey. We have a tiller pilot auto steering device, but it uses power faster than our solar cells can produce it. Therefore we only use it while the motor is running as the motor recharges our batteries at a much faster rate. That meant that we would have to take turns hand steering the boat for the rest of the trip unless the motor was running. There would be many days when this was no big deal and there would be others when this would be taxing on our already exhausted bodies.
The second frustration discovered on our second day out was that our DeLorme communication and tracking device had died. We had spent months testing the unit and here it was barely twenty four hours into our trip and the damn thing was dead, dead, dead. Worry gnawed at me for the next two days until I could get a message out that we were safe. I had visions of friends and family members watching us disappear off the track on MapShare and the concern that they would feel. Once I got the word out that we were safe my concern over the loss of the device was little to none.
Light winds remained on our stern quarter for the three day journey to Bahia Tortuga. A point of sail that frustrated us most of the time. It seemed that no matter how we adjusted our sails we could not keep our jib full. It was not until latter in the journey that we would realize the correct sail plan for our boat under these conditions. This was only one of the many lessons learned on our trip and learning became one of the most wonderful parts of the journey. We discovered new ways of sailing Pablo. We put theories to the test and found out which ones actually worked. The phrase “Let’s see what happens if we do this” was used many times over the days to come.
In addition to bettering our sailing skills with Pablo we got to test out a variety of methods for showering, cooking, dish washing, cleaning, and boat maintenance. Most things worked as planned. Other things that worked great while anchored or on the dock just did not work while under way. Dish washing was a perfect example. There was no way anyone could reasonably wash dishes in a sink the size of a soup bowl while underway. We soon adjusted the plan to gathering a bucket of salt water, doing a pre-wash in the cockpit and a wash n rinse in the galley with fresh water. Likewise showering inside the boat became impossible, so all bathing had to be done in the cockpit while underway. Chores like these are never simple while underway so adjusting was necessary to our sanity and each new discovery proved to make life easier and more enjoyable.
After three days and nights at sea arriving at in port was like waking up after a dream. We had left San Diego with all its modern facilities and arrived in Bahia Tortuga, Baja Mexico. This small beautiful fishing village has limited resources and amenities, but the entire town turns all of its attention to the Baja Ha-Ha fleet as we arrive. The annual event brings a flood of money and no doubt a bit of entertainment to the local population. The fishing stops and the entrepreneurial locals get creative with the many ways they work to meet our needs. All the pangas are dedicated to serving the newly arrived sailing fleet. Locals stop by the boat all day offering local fresh fish, 5 liter jugs of fresh water, garbage disposal services, and water taxi rides to shore. There are three restaurants of sorts in town which cater to passing boats. The menu is simple but the food is good and fresh.
After 750 nautical miles of travel most boats need to get more fuel, as sailing the entire trip is very difficult. Other than hauling your jerry cans up the hill to the Pemex station the only one resource for fuel is from a man named Enrique. You can either med-tie up to the rickety pier where he will send a hose down and pump fuel from a tank or have a panga bring fuel to the boat. We opted for the latter which was a wonderful local Mexican experience. After a six hour wait and repeated communications with Enrique, two smiling teenage boys showed up to pump diesel into our fuel tanks. They had a semi-sealed fuel barrel and a generator on board. When the panga first arrived we noticed that the rope they were using to tie up to our boat was threadbare and sure enough half way through the process their boat broke free. We quickly recovered the boat without much incident and the hardworking young men poured the fuel into our tanks without too much spillage. As a parting gift Steve and I gave them some old rope we had from our staysail sheet replacement project. They were quite delighted with the gift claiming the rope was like new. We were happy to help and grateful to have found a home for the rope we had carried from Long Beach.
The two days spent in Bahia Tortuga were too short for our liking. I think we could have easily stayed a week or more. We got some minor repairs done on the boat, fueled up, attended a beach party organized by the Baja Ha-Ha folks, had a fun evening of trick-or-treaters visiting the boat by dinghy and we were off again. This time headed for Bahia Santa Maria.
The first day of the trip started out with no wind but as the day went on the wind rand the swell rose making for a rough night. With swell up in the 10-12 foot range there was no way to use our auto pilot which meant we were taking twenty minutes shift on the tiller. Thankfully the conditions changed shortly before midnight and we were able to re-institute our watch cycle and get some rest. Day two of this leg of our journey however provided zero wind and swell. The day was hot, the water was clear and our spirits were high. We had all gotten a good nights sleep and eaten a good breakfast. At some point during the afternoon we stopped the engine, pulled out the swim ladder and took a swim some 50 miles from shore.The water was so clear we could see a lone fish swimming in the shade of our boat. It was surreal.
Bahia Santa Maria is 11miles long and 4 miles wide. There is a fishing camp at one end of the bay and endless miles of white sand and mangroves. This is another of the annual stops for the Baja Ha-Ha fleet and once again the locals gear up to make the most of our visit. A rock-n-roll band that plays good music and a family that brings beer and food to sell travel all the way from LaPaz on dirt roads sometimes having to hand cary their instruments and supplies over rivers. The fishermen from the camp offer water taxi rides to shore and fresh fish for a small negotiated price. The Ha-Ha fleet partakes in one of the most secluded beach parties of all time. We dance, laugh and celebrate the long journey behind us and the glorious weather of the lowering latitudes.
After a short two days we left for what would be the last leg of our journey south. It proved to be the most difficult and taxing on our bodies and spirits. We spent 16+ hours in 20-25 knot winds with gusts of 30-35. High swells changing to mixed swell that made it difficult to keep the boat on course. Because we had to hand steer we switched from our one man three hour watches to a cycle of two hour naps each with two men on deck at all times. By the next morning we were exhausted and our bodies were aching. We were pleased to have managed the difficult passage so well and relieved to drop the anchor in Cabo San Lucas where we all slept for 12 straight hours. Which was pretty amazing considering the level of noise coming from the beachside resorts all night long.
Today Ralph flew back to the United States. I don’t know how we would have done the trip without him. He was mellow and easy to get along with, even when I was at my hormonal worst. He was quick to help and eager to learn. We are forever grateful for his help, friendship, kindness and good humor.
Steve and I are now in San Jose Del Cabo waiting for a good weather window to allow us safe passage to La Paz. We are still a little stunned that we are in Mexico and a bit amazed that this new stage of our lives is unfolding. We have found a cantina with great margaritas, fabulous fresh seafood and wonderful people that has become our favorite local. We never wear anything more than t-shirts and sandals and we have no concept of time other than day and night.
It has been quite the adventure. Sometimes Good, Sometimes Bad, and Sometimes Ugly, but always Grand.