Monday, November 26, 2012

Our Baja He He run down the coast

We’d read all about the run from San Diego to Los Cabos as the Baja Ha Ha has been doing this for years.  At about the first of November the chance of a significant storm in Pacific Mexico is slim so that’s when the hordes of gringos embark south down the coast of Baja.  This year the Ha Ha had 120 boats fighting for anchorages and cold beers at Turtle Bay, that’s Bahia Tortugas on the chart.  They left the local population reeling in exhaustion but flush with cash. 

We set sail from Ensenada at 3:00 PM on November 15th having just the night before picked up Connie at the San Diego airport.  Into the night we sailed and as the sun set the wind set, a pattern which would prove itself true over and over in the oncoming days and nights.  We took four hour shifts at first with each person overlapping the person before them by one hour. That way each person had one hour of company, two hours of solitude, then one hour of company.  After a day or two of this we decided that sleep was more important than company so we changed the watch schedule to three hours on and six hours off. 

Keeping a watchful eye
Once offshore we implemented a harness rule.  At night, everyone had to be clipped in before coming on deck.  You stand below and put on your harness then reach outside and grab a tether and snap it onto the harness.  Then you go into the cockpit.  We tried to set our sails so that nobody had to go out on deck at night but if you did, you had to have somebody else present in the cockpit to watch you. 

In the daytime you can be in the cockpit without wearing a harness and life vest but someone else has to be awake and you are not allowed on deck without a harness and somebody watching out for you.  This system seemed to work out just fine and gave us a measure of security. 
Frigate birds and pelicans along for the ride, waiting for lunch

Motoring through the first night we found wind again at 09:45 the next morning and rode that good wind all day to Isla St. Martin near San Quintin Bay where we found a roily anchorage (bouncy) on the south side of the island.  We slept pretty well considering the boat rolled violently most of the night.  

So our first run was about 25 hours.  This was as planned because we wanted to start out gradually and not get too tired while trying to adjust to the watch schedule.  Because the water was pretty calm the first ten hours out nobody got sea sick and we got used to the motion of the boat slowly that first run.

The next morning we got underway and traveled another 31 hours south running the engine when the wind died (usually at night) and sailing when there was wind.  We learned that in bumpy following seas the sails lose their air when the boat rolls, especially the main sail which I nick named “the goddam main” and we finally just took the sucker down and didn’t use it any more.  The big heavy genoa headsail seemed to flop a lot in confused seas, making quite a racket.  So when the wind was lighter we put up the pretty yellow/green/white gennaker and it produced a much quieter and smoother ride. 

That second run was fairly taxing on everyone.  Each of us had our unique melt down on that run and we came to Cedros Island totally ready for a break. So instead of continuing on into the second night to Turtle Bay we opted to rest at Cedros on the northern tip for the night.  The next day we went into Turtle Bay arriving just before sundown.

Rebecca Linde
On the way in we were greeted by Enrique Jr. and his fuel panga.  They showed us a nice anchorage then came alongside and we purchased 100 liters of diesel fuel for $100 US.  After all that motoring I thought it prudent to add another 37.85 gallons to our 70 left in the tank.  I had been checking the water level and the fuel level and the battery voltage and the oil level each day to track how much we were consuming.  This information was going into our log as it was collected.

It felt sooooo gooood to be on the boat with absolutely no movement.  We’d had movement, lots of it, for the last four days.  My abs were sore from rocking back and forth.   The next morning after breakfast we called Enrique Jr again on the radio and bought a water taxi ride to the town wharf.  Small town, expensive showers at the local hotel, some fresh eggs and milk and then a wonderful but expensive bunch of fish tacos and beers at Enrique’s sister, Maria's restaurant overlooking the bay.  Nice!  Now this is what I’m talking about.  

We met up with La Brisa from Ensenada, a boat I somewhat knew of.  The crew of four had been out two weeks doing what we did in four days.  They ripped their main sail and had to spend three days at Isla St. Martin sewing it up. Then their fuel got mixed with all the water and sediment in the tanks which had not been cleaned and their diesel was bad causing the engine to stop running.  They had to pay Enrique Jr to pump it out and dispose of it then they had to buy more clean fuel.  They also were running out of water as they had not conserved it very well on the way down.  So to the pier they went and filled the tanks.  There were other problems too that they encountered and that made me feel a little better about the condition of our little boat. 

Jeff waving goodbye at Santa Maria Bay
We departed the bay the next morning and headed south towards Magdalena Bay.  On the radio we caught a conversation from a guy heading south asking for a radio check.  We butted in and met Jeff headed south on “Chasing the Sun” an Islander 30.  We kept radio contact with him through the day and into the night. I had some good conversations with him that night and found that he was single handing the vessel with Panama as his next big land fall.  We tried to catch up with him for days, keeping about ten miles behind and talking on the VHF radio all the while.  It was interesting having a boat buddy through the days and nights.  It turns out that this was to be his last trip.  His days are numbered as he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and this trip was to complete his “bucket list.”  He hoped to make it to Panama and pick up his wife there and continue on to her native country Venezuela.  Meeting up with Jeff, over the radio, and talking to him for days gave me a certain new perspective on life.  

52 hours after leaving Turtle bay we pulled into Bahia Santa Maria, a nice sheltered anchorage just north of Magdalena Bay.  We came in at night using the radar, GPS, and our eyeballs. Some fishermen called us on the radio and warned us off their lobster pots.  Thanks guys, much appreciated.  We dropped the hook and opened the wine bottle.  Oh yes, one more rule on the boat is no drinking during passages.  If the anchor is down and the sea is somewhat calm then pop the cork.   

A few hours later Jeff pulled in and we invited him to Thanksgiving dinner. He arrived in his dinghy with a can of cranberry sauce and a box of wine.  The guy was weathered and wild looking from his trip down the coast but his eyes were bright and his energy was evident.  We had a great dinner and wonderful conversations while meeting this stranger who I’d been talking to for days.  Jeff had a couple of Spanish lesson CDs to listen to but no music!  So I dug out my old IPOD and we loaded it up with a good selection of tunes so he could have a new diversion during all those hours of sailing alone down this wild coast.

Nice anchorage, slept wonderfully. 

You can tune a base but you can't tuna fish
Running a little behind schedule, we needed to press on so we skipped Magdalena Bay and headed south on our third leg of the trip; destination, Los Cabos.  By this time we had the watch schedule down and knew to grab sleep when we could.  I learned this the hard way as a few nights before we had rough seas and a dearth of wind so I couldn’t sleep one night at all.  I lost energy, got dizzy and weak, and felt like crap.  Connie and Rebecca (behind my back) decided to take my next shift away from me so I could get lots of sleep.  They kept the boat going under sail and quiet and I did get good rest and felt much better the next day.  Thanks crew!

The run to Cabo took a long time with lots of motoring through the calms.  Connie caught a small fish which was very exciting.  We arrived off the point at the end of the Baja peninsula at night with Connie taking a midnight shift listening to Frank Zappa on the IPOD.  The city lights were bright.  We stayed offshore at least five miles, rounded the tip, and headed NE towards the town of San Jose del Cabo arriving there just after dawn the third day out.  Rebecca tried her best to sail her to the landfall but the wind came on the nose and when I came on shift I said, "The hell with this." and cranked up the engine.  We found the marina breakwater entrance and as we entered a small pilot boat came out and took us to an open slip.  And so we found ourselves at the beautiful marina at Puerto Los Cabos with the batteries charging on shore power and the sun streaming in the windows.  

Lots of gizmos
This place is chock full of very large white fishing yachts.  Each has a radar and radio array rivaling that of most third world navies.  Somehow we made it down the coast with a 20 year old radar and one hand held GPS. Hmmm.
Jesus was a fisherman too.

On the way down we did have a few minor difficulties with the boat but we persevered figuring that as long as the sails pulled and the engine started we were fine.  The alternator was not charging the batteries as it should when running the engine. The first autopilot broke so we used the second one that is more beefy and located under the cockpit.  But that autopilot eats up electricity.  The solar panels were charging as best they could during daylight hours but could not keep up with the demands of the auto pilot and the refrigerator.  So every day or so, I’d get out the little Honda generator and charge the house bank of batteries for an hour or two. 

None of the engine gages were working. No oil pressure. No water temperature. No tachometer. But the sails would draw and when there was no wind, the old Perkins would start up and with a HUGE racket power us down the coast.

Rebecca flew home today.  We thank her for helping us take Traveler south.  On our own we would have gone at a much slower pace but we would not have experienced what it takes to do an extended passage in blue water. With the schedule of her airline flight out of Cabo in mind, we moved as fast as we could and are now happily 800 miles south in warm weather.  Tomorrow we leave in the dark and head north up the inside coast towards LaPaz, planning on stopping twice on that run.  Los Frailes is our first stop, 38 miles NE  of Puerto Los Cabos.  Then Muertos Cove is another 47 miles north of Los Frailes.  Then LaPaz is another 55 miles.  We hope to do this in three hops, starting very early each day and arriving before nightfall.  If the prevailing winds from the north are not too strong we can make it in three days.  If the winds pick up we will sit at anchorage and pick the fuzz out of our belly buttons.  Once in La Paz, the boat project list continues.

After we rounded the corner at Cabo San Lucas last night we lost radio contact with our buddy Jeff.  This was to be expected because when we ran out of wind we turned on the engine and hauled butt for 12 hours straight leaving him in the watery dust.  But we hope to hear from him on the radio as he sails around the cape and heads east towards the Mexico mainland and routes leading him south towards his dear wife and her homeland.  

As a postscript here I have to add this little gripe.  We’re paying $90 a night for our slip here in the Puerto Los Cabos. They don’t have any gate keys left because the Baja Ha Ha folks walked off with too many. So we are constantly locked out of or inside the dock.  We tried climbing around through the cactus and scaling the fence but after doing this too many times Connie got a little upset and started yelling. Then I went to the gate and started yelling for someone to let us out.  Finally one of the cruisers at the marina palapa came down and opened the gate for us, somebody who DID have a gate key.  I then got out my tools and took apart the locking mechanism on the gate so we could use the facilities tonight.  Some cruiser who is concerned about their own security on the dock kept knocking the rock out of the way that is supposed to hold the gate open. We prop it open, they close it.   The Mexico solution to not having enough gate keys… prop the gate open.  The Anglo boater attitude… lock the gate and the hell with anyone else. We’re gone at first light tomorrow leaving that little aggravation behind.

Walking alongside the estero looking nice an proper except Scott is wearing little boy shorts.
Now that I’ve added the above complaint Connie and I feel much better and we’re getting ready to pop a steak on the grill, have a nice dinner, and call it an early night. 

The run down the coast from San Diego to Los Cabos is one done by many southbound sun seekers every early winter.  It is not a casual run but one that proves the adequacy of the boat, the stamina of the crew, and the patience of the captain. The bash back up that same coast is much more difficult. If we decide to come back north, maybe we'll do so via Hawaii.
Gosh the adventures keep on coming...

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Los Cabos complete

About 800 nautical miles later we are at Los Cabos in an fancy marina at San Juan del Cabo.  We took about 11 days to do the transit with multiple days at sea and only three anchorages on the way south.  The boat held up much better than the crew and we're coming away from the experience with confidence in our craft and confidence in our ability to handle wind, waves, and weather.

We'll take some time to get some pictures together and do some writing for a good blog entry soon.  Just wanted to let our listeners know that all is well and we are very happy, healthy, and just a little smarter than when we left.  Being an unemployed sailor is so much more work than being an employed worker bee in cold rainy Seattle.   

Just had to get in that dig about the rain.  You don't want to know how it is here.....  Life is sweet.
On the beach today at San Juan del Cabo.        Photo credit: R. Linde.     Model: C. Bunyer

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Last San Diego trip

In San Diego now at a coffee shop waiting to meet a guy to pick up a single side band antenna tuner.  Then I'm off to the airport to pick up my lovin companion, Connie.

Then tomorrow, we sail south.

I've gotta put in a plug here for the folks at Downwind Marine.  They helped me in many many ways.  I've bought thousands of dollars worth of goods there, gotten lots of great advice, and they've accepted deliveries of items I've ordered online.  They are truly there to help out cruisers, and they enjoy doing so.

We've been fortunate also to have some very knowledgeable sailors at the dock in Ensenada.  I've been able to pick their brains and figure out ways to get the refit done properly.

Yesterday and today we loaded diesel, gasoline, and water, so much so that I thought we'd see a difference in the waterline.  Not so. And we tried out the gennaker headsail.  Loved the sock for deploying and snuffing.  The new SSB is in, minus a tuner and everything seems ship shape and ready for an afternoon departure tomorrow.

Not Traveler, but Hal and Nina on SV Luna Sea leaving Cruisport last week
I suppose the next blog update will either be from LaPaz or San Jose del Cabo.  The trip down should take us about 11 days.  Wish us luck as we take off on our first multi-day ocean voyage!  Gee, I hope we like it.  What if we do all this work getting a boat and learning all this stuff only to find out we'd rather be farming?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Approaching critical mass

As they say in the space program, we are approaching critical mass here on Traveler.  The pressure being applied (and the momentum) pushing us forward to embarkation is almost equal to the forces holding us to the dock.  It’s like the surface tension on a drop of water as you push it with your pinkie finger. Eventually it’s got to release.  I think the one item that will push us over the top (like the states of Ohio and Florida in the election) will be the much anticipated arrival of Ms. Constance Bunyer next Thursday.   Having our esteemed navigator and co-pilot aboard will clear the way for us to march to the Port Captain’s office and get our Zarpe.
The Zarpe is a document that says we are clear to leave. We’ve got our crew list complete and all our papers are in order. This does not mean we are in any way ready.  It just means that the port authorities are ready to see our backsides.  

Speaking of the Port Captain, we went to see him yesterday.  The thing is, we have some fairly expensive items to bring across the border from San Diego to Ensenada.  Normally, you are able to bring about $100 worth of stuff across the border, stuff that is not a normal personal item.  What we do for miscellaneous items is just take them out of the box and strew them around the back of the car so it looks like a lot of old junk.  When we go through the border and get stopped, we just try to look innocent and they let us proceed.  

This week I’m bringing not one, but two Hydrovane wind vane systems back to Mexico. These puppies cost about 6K apiece.   So I’ll be way over my quota on this trip.  What we need here is some official looking paperwork.  If you wave lots of paperwork at the customs agent, she will smile and wish you a good day.  “It’s all about the paperwork.” says Brent, our friend at the dock.  

Brent and I visited the port captain’s office yesterday with invoices and copies of invoices and important stamped papers with bright shiny official letterhead.  When we came into town in Traveler last year we reported all the equipment on the boat to customs.  Now we need to add a wind vane and a generator to that list.  The port captain was happy to do this for us.  And now when we cross the border with the wind vanes in the car, all I have to do is wave my paperwork and Brent’s paperwork and Voila’ the gates will open. 

As a side note, when we went to the port captain’s office last week to get Rebecca’s visa everyone was very serious, almost mean.  When we went there yesterday someone from Cruiseport Marina took us there to help with the paperwork.  Everyone was all smiles.  My advice here in Ensenada is… if you are coming into port and need your TIP (Temporary Import Permit) and visa come to Cruiseport Marina for your entry and they will smooth the waters like Moses and that unending basket of fish.  I’m getting my religious stories mixed up here aren’t I?

Speaking of immigration, there are new immigration procedures happening this week at the Mexico border.  Because the US has ramped up its visa enforcement, Mexico has decided to do the same.  Now, every time we exit the country for the day we have to buy a new visa when we return.  This is 295 Pesos per person each time we visit San Diego.  That takes some of the fun out of going to SD.  Actually, I’m very tired of making that day long trip.  It all seems so busy on the dark side.  Traffic, noise, cars, shiny metal objects, and big jets in the sky.

In other news, Barak and Michelle will be in Washington four more years.  That’s a load off my shoulders of worry.  I’d hate for my country to get any worse than it already is.  Bruce Cockburn says, “The trouble with normal is it always gets worse.”

Congratulations on you, the state of Washington.  Now gay partners can get stoned and marry legally.  The west coast is the best coast. Note the map above.  See how part of the east coast is still red?  We need to do something about that. At least that little skinny state at the bottom is trending blue now. We get those three red states to turn and then we've got them cornered.  Get liberal or else!

Back on the boat, we’ve finished the settee work and now instead of two big black leather chairs on the starboard side, we have a nice comfortable settee.  Settee for sitting or settee for lying down and taking a nap which is my favorite thing to do when underway at sail.

One of the expensive items I recently snuck across the border was a single sideband antenna.  The rigger talked me out of replacing the back stay and insulators that previously acted as the SSB antenna.  Most sailboats use the back stay as the big antenna.  This is accomplished by inserting two ceramic insulators, one near the top and one near the bottom. This isolates part of the cable which can be used to push out the powerful SSB signal. Don’t touch that back stay when Connie is down below talking on the SSB microphone or your head will explode!  

If you think about it, the back stay is the second most critical piece of rigging on the boat. If it goes, so does the mast.  To insert two insulators adds four more connections to the back stay. This is four more points of possible failure.  After Ed explained this to me I finally acquiesced and had him rig a one piece back stay and then went down the street and bought a separate SSB antenna for a ridiculous amount of money.  This new antenna slips over the back stay.. separate but equal.

So the rigging is done for now.  The only thing left is the fore stay which we plan to address next year sometime.  We took the boat out for a sail this week and put her on a starboard beam reach.  Then we felt the leeward shrouds to see how loose they were.  We tightened a little, then tacked around to a port beam reach and checked the other side.. and tightened them.   Now we are just about tuned, rig-wise.  Once we sail for a day or so, the rigging will stretch a little and we’ll do some more fine tuning. 

I also smuggled a little Honda generator across last week.  And I’m pleased with the performance.  We unplugged the boat from the dock and turned on the refrigerator compressor and some lights.  Then I attached the generator to the AC input on the boat.  We then turned on the microwave and you could hear the little generator rev up a little.  It was able to handle both the big Xantrex battery charger and the microwave at the same time.  We’ll feel better now knowing that even if we have a string of cloudy days we can always crank up that little Honda and put a nice charge on the house battery bank. Now where to stow that item???

Next up this week are a couple of projects.  We’ll need to water up the boat with nice fresh drinking water, about 150 gallons of it.  I checked out the watermaker onboard and found that it would only put out 1.5 gallons per hour, if it operates at all after sitting for 4 years.  That small volume is disappointing to say the least. So that project is on hold for a little while while we do some research.  One product I've found is the Cruise RO watermaker.  It runs on 110 volt but uses all non proprietary parts.  So when something needs replacing it won't cost an arm and a leg and might actually be found in far off ports. The best thing is that it is designed to be able to run off the power of the little magic Honda 2000i generator.  I guess the plan is that when you need more water, you fire up the Honda and charge your batteries while you are making 20 gallons of water per hour.  In the picture above you can see that we've already got that center red item.  All we need is a couple of white plastic tubes and such.  Simple huh?  Cheap, not.

We’ve already had the bottom of the boat cleaned and the zincs replaced. Then we need to get fishing licenses for everyone aboard, provision the boat with foodstuffs, load up with gasoline and diesel and we’re ready for departure.

It’s been a long haul.  And Traveler is not actually ready to go.  But go we shall.  The way I think of it is that we are merely moving our base of ongoing boat projects down the coast a little to take advantage of warmer working conditions.   Our plans are to head down to the cape and stop at San Jose del Cabo where we’ll spend a night and Rebecca will disembark.  Then Connie and Scott will continue around the corner to LaPaz.  There we will continue working on the project list and Connie’s son Ezrah will join us for a while.  We’ll cruise locally then cross over to the mainland where we will meet up with our friend Chris for a week or so then later in February with Daneen and Mary.  

Stay tuned, send money

The sun sets behind the cranes of Ensenada harbor.