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Playing Catch-up

Our adventure continues heading down the Pacific Coast of Baja California, three days behind everyone else. Unfortunately, John had caught a bug and being that we were double-handing our boat, we needed both sailors at their best. On the third day after the Baja Haha took off, we were finally on our way. We got off early in the morning to what appeared to be yet another day of no wind. This would be a quiet passage as the other 143 sailboats were two days in front of us. There were a couple stragglers that were leaving about the same time as us, but we would rarely see them. What had started out as a motoring day did afford us a couple hours of wind where we were able to shut the engine off and sail. Shortly after crossing into Mexico, we squeezed Karma between the mainland and Isla Coronado (okay, squeeze is a bit of an exaggeration, 10 miles to be exact) which also forced what little wind there was into a bottleneck which created a bit more wind to the tune of about 15 knots from the north. For about 2 hours Karma got to sail with her full mainsail and full jib. We were on a broad reach so her staysail stayed wrapped up. Broad reaches are usually a very comfortable point of sail, with the wind coming from your hind quarter, essentially pushing the boat forward. The downside is that this point of sail always feels very slow. You can have 20 knots of wind, which would be quite sporty at any other point of sail; but on a broad reach, you can get the champagne glassware out and serve dainty appetizers, while slowly approaching your destination. With the wind behind you it also feels like it is lighter than it is. This is the difference between true wind speed and apparent wind speed. True is 20 knots, but apparent in this case is 20 knots minus your speed, lets say 6, resulting in a mere 14 knot feel. Now if you were heading close on the wind, this would be upwards of 26 knots of apparent wind and that would indeed feel sporty.

Shortly after passing Isla Coronado the wind died down and Karma's Iron Horse rolled back into action. The next two days were spent motoring and avoiding freighters. It was clear weather all the way. We spied the mainland with our binoculars only to see lots of desert and the occasional city or town. There was a steady stream of freighters hugging the coastline traveling north and south. We stayed at least ten miles offshore and that helped us stay out of their way. Even though we were a ways out, we still had to watch out for fishing gear, some which were very hard to see and others that were decked out with lights and showed up on our AIS. That should be a standard in my opinion, but some say fishermen want to keep their locations secret. I don't know, but if I run over a trap in the dark, I'm going to cut the line and they will lose every bit of equipment tied to that line as well as their catch. To me, that sounds like AIS, lights, and a radar reflector might be a worthy investment.

Our first Mexico passage was the longest in many ways. It was about 390 miles long, which would take more than three days to arrive and we were essentially doing it alone, because everyone else was hundreds of miles ahead of us. Luckily it was clear skies all the way, no rain, no storms, no big waves... just smooth motoring. Our destination was Bahia Tortugas, aka Turtle Bay. The Baha Haha had a bunch of events planned at that location but of course we were delayed and missed them all. They do a charity baseball game with the local town there, they also have a huge bonfire party on the last night. We did arrive in time to see it, but were frankly too tired to go ashore to join in. In the morning, we got on the "Net" to check in and hear all the latest news. Most of the boats were planning on leaving that morning, but some of us late arrivals needed to get fuel and do a little resupply. We were hoping to get out by mid-afternoon. Fueling is somewhat of a fiasco at Turtle Bay. First off they know that they are the the first and only diesel suppliers on this long journey south, which means that what is normally 23 pesos per liter is now 40 pesos per liter. Next, the dock is in major disrepair, so we opted to have our fuel delivered by Panga (aka water taxi) adding another 20 pesos per liter. Okay, so now we are at 60 pesos per liter. There are 3.8 liters per gallon and we needed 63 gallons. Ahh, the joys of boating! A mere 239 liters needed at now 60 pesos comes to 14,364 pesos! What is that in gringo dollars? About $900 or $14.28 per gallon. We got the diesel into the tank, which was its own little adventure, and I head up to the fuel station to pay the bill. All I had were 1000 peso notes so of course I gave them fifteen 1000 peso notes and awaited change, in which he replied to me... Tip? So, that was the first lesson of Mexico: always pay with exact change.

It was getting to be about 3 pm, as the fueling took almost 2 hours to ferry the fuel back and forth by boat. The sun sets at about 7pm and we wanted to get away from land before that happened, so we hurried off westward and in the process had forgotten to do all our pre-departure checks. We did raise the mainsail in port with a single reef already set in it as we had heard there was some wind out there. We get out about a half mile and realize that the wind and waves are a tad more powerful than they were supposed to be so we immediately turned into the wind to add another reef to the mainsail. This was a bumpy ride, wind and waves were coming from the same direction. And these waves were big, crashing over the foredeck as we struggled to get a second reef in. After much struggling we found that the second reef clew line had wrapped around the boom and we could not get it unstuck so we turned and headed back into Turtle Bay, as we were still pretty close. Once we got in to port again, we realized that in our hurried departure we also had forgotten to secure the boarding ladder, store the fenders, and close the gate. Another lesson learned. Never hurry off into the unknown; always double check your departure checklist. We unwrapped the second reef and took out the first reef, dropped the mainsail and dropped the anchor. We decided to spend another night in Turtle Bay. This time we wouldn't be completely alone; a few other boats were staying the night for a morning departure.

The next leg was a bit shorter, about 250 miles, so it would take us just over two days to arrive at Bahia Santa Maria, where we were to officially check in to Mexico. You are supposed to check in to Mexico at your first port of call, but Turtle Bay has no immigration services so this would be the first official place we could do that. Some sailors made a stop in Ensenada on the way down, but we had pre-arranged with an agent to handle it in Bahia Santa Maria. The weather outside Turtle bay had subsided but the wave action was still present, not nearly as bad, but it definitely was still there and was hitting us on the stern quarter, which made for what was not a very smooth ride. The wind waves were all gone, but we still had about 2 meter swell from the northwest with maybe a 12 second delay. One must just remember that the boat is a cork and will travel up and down these mounds of water, but of course there is still motion in the boat and when they don't hit you square on the back it creates a weird sensation. A wave will come in on a stern quarter, which lifts and heels the boat at the same time, the wave then travels under you and exits the opposite side on the bow which lifts the front and heels the boat in the other direction. If you have a weak stomach, this action can definitely implement a "momentaneus vomitus" condition. Once again we were off sailing, err motoring. We were about a day behind the rest of the Baha Haha and we did have a few boats within sight which is always comforting. And, it turns out that turning around was a good decision as the majority of the rally had massive winds and waves the whole way to Santa Maria. There were reports of boats losing dinghies off their davits, a couple paddleboards blown away, a ripped spinnaker, and a freak lightning storm in which one boat was struck. Many sailors said that was the worst weather they had ever encountered, others broke their boat speed records on their catamarans kicking it at 12-18 knots. Oh, and I almost forgot, back at Turtle Bay, a boat sank, only the third in the 23 rallies to date. Back to Turtle Bay we go, at least on paper.

The Baha Haha rally is quite safe, but you are taking this little cork out into the unknown. So, there are inherent risks to taking a vessel into the Pacific Ocean or offshore for whatever reason. This is what makes these rallies fun to be a part of. Not only are you travelling with a massive group of likeminded individuals, but these individuals are also on boats packed full of emergency and survival gear as well as many highly trained individuals such as nurses, doctors, and paramedics. It is interesting how many people in the medical fields actually are boaters, and go on long passages for relaxation and adventure. As part of a rally, the people who will likely assist you in an emergency are those fellow boaters. The USCG and other country militaries will try to find you, but it is these fellow mariners that will likely assist you, and that is an expectation of a mariner to provide help to those in need. So like I said the Baha Haha has had three incidents now in its 23 year history. The first happened when a boat came too close to the northern point of Isla Coronado and ran aground. One common mistake for newbie mariners is they don't zoom in on their charts to verify there are no hidden reefs on their charted course. The first incident resulted from exactly that, they plotted a course and ran aground at night. A landlubber would think that being on land is a good thing, but it isn't when you are in a boat. Boats, Land, and Waves do not mix! Everyone perished in this accident. Second, there is a false bay right before you reach Turtle Bay and what turned out to be another charting issue, the sailors turned into the wrong bay and promptly ran aground. I believe everyone survived this accident, but of course the boat was destroyed. And then there was this trip. A woman bought a boat with everything she had, the boat was in somewhat disrepair and she was somewhat inexperienced. She did hire a captain for the trip south, which was wise... but she chose the wrong captain. During our briefing of the first leg, it was repeatedly beat into our heads that we are not to cut the corner on Turtle Bay; as rocks are found up to a half mile from shore. The problem boat did not have a well-functioning autopilot and the captain thought that it would be wise to hug the shoreline all the way down the coast. Remember, boats and land do not mix! So, this in my mind was foolish. In the end, the captain hit a rock, blamed it on the autopilot and the boat promptly sank at the entrance of Turtle Bay in the dark. Everyone lived and luckily the whole rally was anchored at Turtle Bay and were able to quickly assist in the rescue as it only took 5 minutes for the boat to succumb to the depths. The 'Captain' is known in the community as being shifty and having sunk boats in the past. Why this was not made aware to the boat owner, I am not sure. Last I heard, there was an ongoing USCG investigation into the Captain.

Okay, back to Bahia Santa Maria. We arrived one day late in the pitch blackness of a new moon night. Waves were pretty bad and made worse by the fact that we could not see them. Wind was pretty harsh too and we had a reefed main up for stabilization while under motor. The bay is huge, easily a couple miles across and relatively shallow everywhere, in the 20'-50' range. So there were a lot of places to anchor, but of course everyone wants to be close to shore, so all 143 boats were anchored tight in about a square mile. As we were arriving at night, with no moonlight, we opted to anchor a ways out away from everyone and then we would reposition in the light of day. There is some peace about not being near other people and their boats as we would see the following night. But first, its Immigration Day! No longer are we illegal immigrants! Since we had sent all our documents in before leaving the United States and paid their fees, this was a very simple process. The skipper, John, climbed into the dinghy and motored over to the Rally catamaran where a Mexican Navy boat was tied up to. John handed them the passports, they stamped them and said "Welcome to Mexico!", then handed back the passports. We were finally on the up and up with Mexico. Later that day was the "Welcome to Mexico" party on shore where everyone was invited and it was a big crowd, Up to 8 people per boat, 143 boats is a big party! Everyone seemed to take the Panga into the party as there was a surf landing involved and the Panga drivers are indeed experts at this. Sailors in their dinghies create more of a "roll of the die" situation on surf landings, as they can range anywhere from a smooth landing to a roll and bent motor shaft to pulverizing all dinghy occupants. We all arrived safely and were treated to live music, freshly cooked mahi-mahi and shrimp, with a fresh Mexican salad, beer, margaritas which they quickly ran out of and lots of camaraderie.

The night was uneventful, but oh the morning was a whole different story. The whole fleet was set to depart in the morning just after the "Net" which was at 8:30am. We all woke to blustery winds, sustained at over 30 knots with gusts called out at 47 knots; and remember this was in a PROTECTED anchorage. Shortly before the Net, the first emergency call came out, a boat was dragging and was shortly there after tangled with two other boats. All three were now being dragged out to sea. One of the boats cut their anchor chain which means they lost their anchor, but they were free of the entanglement. The downside is they no longer had an anchor and had to head out into the ocean in these not-so-great windy conditions. The other two boats managed to get untangled and re-anchored. The boat that originally dragged will drag again later in our story; some people just don't learn. The catamaran that is the lead boat of the rally decided to take off at 10 am, even though more than half the boats held off until the wind calmed down some more. The rest of us more sane sailors departed the anchorage at about 1pm. The wind was way down by then to about 15 knots coming from our backs as we headed south to our final stop, Cabo San Lucas, approximately 220 miles away. For the first time since the beginning of the Baha Haha, we were finally sailing in a pack of boats.

Finally, we had wind at the right angle with the right amount, not too light, not too strong. We put out all our sails and turned off the engine by mid-day of the second day and we sailed until sundown. We could have gone into Cabo San Lucas at night, but we had never been there and having a small anchorage on the edge of a deep chasm with the risk of swinging cruise ships, we decided to putter around in the ocean and wait for sunrise to enter the port. This was not a fun night, the waves were hitting us from different directions and the wind was unsettled so we spent all night getting tossed around. When the sun appeared we began our entry into Cabo which actually took a few hours. There was a huge private yacht anchored in the field, with a length of 330 feet, named Attessa IV. The yacht was one of two owned by the owner of C-SPAN, the other larger yacht is docked in Puerta Vallarta with a helicopter on its foredeck. We arrived to the anchorage which is not a very great anchorage. There is no real protection from the swell of the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez. Wind from the south would be bad too, but in November that was not a problem. This anchorage lines the beach from the marina all the way east for a couple miles, but it sits on the edge of a very deep chasm, so there are two risks here, dragging onto the beach, or dragging into the chasm in which the anchor no longer is touching the bottom. The Attessa IV was also a problem, because you need to allow for swing room. Boats at anchor swing around depending on the current and wind. Boats generally move in unison, but not always, and nobody wants to get run over by a 330 foot boat.

We finally found a spot a couple miles down the beach, remember the whole Baha Haha was here, 143 boats plus the Attessa IV, plus any other boats that just happened to be visiting. It was very crowded. We stayed aboard Karma for the first day to kind of get the feel for things. The next day, two huge cruise ships arrive and started telling boats in the anchorage that they needed to move to allow for swing room. We had gone into town that day to do some resupply. That night was smooth in the anchorage, but noisy, lots of partying going on in Cabo. Our third day convinced us we needed to leave as soon as possible. That morning went into Cabo to do a Check In/Check Out with the harbormaster, a silly process that Mexico does to "keep track of you". We stopped for lunch and a margarita at a wonderful neighborhood restaurant before returning to our Panga. When we returned the chop from the ocean was really bad, we were in the anchorage with 6-foot waves bashing us, with crosswise waves being created by all the water traffic around the boat. It was just plain nasty. It was then we decided to leave Cabo. We contacted our weather router SailingTotem to ask for a window to head north to Los Frailes but were advised against that because the wind and waves would be punishing those that went that way. They instead advised us to go straight to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle on Banderas Bay, a 300-mile ocean crossing to the south. This was going to be a first for us. No land in sight for days on end.

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