10/29/2014, Bahia Tortuga, Mexicao
It serves me right for having waited almost a month before writing any of this down, but the sail to Turtle Bay is largely a blank for me. My strongest impression is of how well Dave and Mary and I got along.
Dave was a no-brainer for me in terms of crew choice. He and I were classmates in college, so have known each other for over forty years. Besides that, he's a really nice, really great guy with my sort of humor. He's an experienced sailor, though not offshore. He's a minimalist, at least he was when it came to packing his bag for the trip. Now, admittedly, I'd told him he needn't bring foulies, since I have some on board that fit him, but I think he only actually brought a couple of pairs of shorts and a couple of tee shirts and a toilet kit. Whatever, it all fit in one day pack.
Mary was more of a gamble, although my spidey-sense told me she'd be a good crew from the first time I'd met her. That was at a Ha-Ha-organized crew/captain meet-up in Alameda, an event I only serendipitously was there for. In search of cheap (i.e. free) moorage in San Francisco, I'd moved from Berkeley Marina to Oakland YC in Alameda. (Odd, I know. Who screwed up and put the Oakland Yacht Club in Alameda instead of across the channel in Oakland? Doh!) I found out about the event after I'd been at OYC a couple of days, went on a whim, and met Mary. How lucky was that? You can read more about her in a separate "Rogue's Gallery" post. In contrast to Dave, she arrived with a backpack, checked baggage, and a travel guitar.
According to a tidbit of wisdom I've recently acquired, I am now a fisherman. I've caught a fish, isn't that the only qualifier? More accurately, WE caught SOME fish. They'd had a few promo tables back at the captain/crew meet-up in Alameda, including people pitching Mexican marinas and Mexican liability insurance, and the authors of Charlie's Charts were there selling their Western Coast of Mexico edition. At the same time they were selling a hand-line fishing set-up consisting of a long nylon line that incorporated a bit of shock cord and what seemed like a ridiculously simple fishing lure, ...a torpedo of cedar with a nasty looking hook. That's it.
The shock cord introduces a loop of slack into the line that jerks taught and sets the hook when a fish hits the lure, but you wouldn't think that a fish would be attracted to the lure in the first place. I was guaranteed a bite, though, so I invested the $30 or so and took it back to the boat with me.
Whaddaya know, it DID work! We decided to try the rig somewhere south of the Coronado Islands and at first I wasn't impressed since we'd been trolling it boringly along at our cruising speed of 5-1/2 to 6 knots for a couple of hours. Mary just happened to look over at it and noticed the shock cord was stretched out to the limit of the slack line and excitedly commenced to hauling it in. At the end we found about a two foot yellowfin tuna!
Now what to do? Mary'd had some experience fishing with her father, so led the attack on the poor creature. I'd already assembled my fishing gear according to the rather entertaining instruction sheet that came with the hand line: a large plastic bucket, a length of small diameter rope, and a knife. Not at hand was the recommended bottle of cheap booze with which to anesthetize the fish, but I ended up sacrificing some of my Captain Morgan's spiced rum for the cause. The tuna was not particularly appreciative of my taste in liquor.
So, while Mary hoisted up our catch, I fought to maneuver a loop of rope over the flipping tail. We then inverted the fish and attempted to pour rum into its gills, wasting more than went in. Frankly, I didn't notice much effect, but it assuaged our guilt and allowed us to think we would be considered more humane than otherwise as we proceeded, according to instruction, to cut into the animal's main arteries and bleed it out in the bucket.
Our skill in this bleeding process left something to be desired as well. The bucket caught most of the blood, but several days later when we had the wherewithal to wash the boat down, we were scrubbing brown splatters off on the far side of the boat. Yech!
The other two of us leaned over the bucket in morbid fascination while I attempted not to make a butchery of cleaning the proud, golden fish. I won't get into the gruesome details here, but I was nominally successful and ended up with two nice filets, vacuum sealed and packed against the cold plate in the refrigerator. Two more were cooked on the barbecue with oil and lemon for dinner that evening. Muy delicioso!
There are a couple of other events that I'm now prompted to remember by the photos. First was the giant squid attack, which went unnoticed since they were only three inches long plopped silently on deck sometime during the night. Dave ate one the next morning to teach it a lesson and we were no longer bothered by such hideous beasts. The other was Mary's culinary feat of baking a chicken pot pie at sea. My FAVorite!
After around 240 sea miles, we staged our arrival in Bahia Tortuga in the dark. Making a cautious approach, we were baffled by what we saw ahead of us versus what we were told to expect by the charts and our preconception of what an isolated Mexican town should look like. Between fishing boats displaying an assortment of imaginative lighting arrangements and what I could only conclude were the tail lamps of vehicles moving ashore, we felt our way in. Wow, the town looked a lot bigger than we'd thought it would be, spreading over the entire northeastern expanse of the bay.
We wove through a field of anchored Ha-Ha-ers, working our was as close as we dared to what appeared to be the municipal pier, and dropped the anchor in the middle of a reasonable expanse of empty space. Though relatively uneventful, the trip had taken two long nights and two-and-a-half long days, so we were all ready to enjoy some uninterrupted hours that could be invested in sleep instead of watching the dark ocean go by from our spot at the helm.
10/29/2014, Bahia Tortuga, Mexico
So, Mary's cute, with short brown hair, a round, smiling face, and an athletic build. No doubt about it, these characteristics were what first caught my attention when she was introduced to me, but she also glowed with friendly confidence. When I learned she was a firefighter and a experienced paramedic, that immediately made her a prime candidate for crew. While we chatted about our experiences, selling each other as prospective captain and crew, me pitching my boat as a seaworthy craft and she, with limited experience, mostly her enthusiasm. One thing she made sure to tell me right up front was that she was happily married.
Everyone that knows me probably also knows that I'm constantly looking for interview candidates for permanent first mate on Mabrouka. I try to be very casual and unassuming about that and Mary looked too young for me anyway, but it was good that she'd put me on notice of her status to take that out off the interview agenda. No matter, ...I was looking for CREW.
Continuing the sales pitch, I invited her and a couple of other potential crew down to Mabrouka for a tour. She was duly impressed and expressed a strong interest in joining me in San Diego. One thing led to another and we agreed she'd join Dave and I for the San Diego to Cabo San Lucas run.
Somewhere along the way we were chatting on the phone about flight plans, what she needed to bring, etc. When it came to her arrival date in San Diego, she kept referring her need to work around her spouse's work and travel plans. At one point I commented that Mary's frequent referral to this person as her spouse sounded awfully formal to me and asked if said spouse had a name. To paraphrase, "Yes," she said. "Jennifer."
I recovered pretty quickly from my surprise. I might even go so far as to say that I masked it completely, but fact is that the thoughts that played in the background for the rest of the conversation have been of continuing interest to me. To summarize, I'm a traditionally raised sort of fellow and a committed heterosexual. That being said, I appreciate people for their humanity not their sexuality and don't see why anyone has to be labeled for their private activities.
Sometime early in our sail I asked Mary about her use of the term spouse when referring to her longtime life partner, Jen. Her answer was playful and had something to do with the entertainment she derived from the reactions she observed when people learned that she was gay. I liked that. Mary's not afraid to talk about this aspect of her life, but is also respectful that some people react negatively to it.
As interesting as this discussion is to me, it makes more than I want to of aspects of Mary's life that have nothing to do with her time on Mabrouka. Infinitely more pertinent is her unflagging good cheer and an almost rambunctious eagerness to pitch in and do more than her part to keep Mabrouka moving along in a positive direction. She indulged my tendency to be lazy in the galley, taking up cooking duties more than fair-mindedness would have allowed. She was always offering to reach things for us out of the cooler, ...often that was a celebratory afternoon beer. There was never a shortage of hands to rig sails or adjust lines when she was on deck and rarely if she was down below.
Another thing that made her particularly welcome on board was the passion she shared with Dave for surfing. Not only had she enjoyed the sport since she was a teenager, she'd been an instructor and a professional. Dave has never done either, but grew up surfing from a similar age and continued it through most of his 60 years.
10/29/2014, Bahia Tortuga, Mexico
Dave and I were classmates together in college, Webb Institute of Naval Architecture in Glen Cove, New York. So we've been friends since June 1973, over 41 years.
We shared a similar backstory in school in that we were both from California. Somehow I rated the nickname The California Kid, even though he seemed to fit that better than I, having been born and raised (I'm pretty sure) right there in Ocean Beach. I am a navy brat, so came from all over the place and only earned the west coast appellation by way of the modestly tricked out VW square back I'd driven across country, ...wooden bumpers, curtains in the back windows, carpeted back deck AND ceiling, and fancy stereo.
What can I share about Dave? He was smart and studious in college, though not so much so as to make him unreachable. Serious, but also with a dry sense of humor and a ready laugh. I knew he'd be a good offshore sailing companion, calm and steady and with enough experience to know pretty much what he was getting into. He certainly knew me well enough to know what HE was getting into as far as personalities went.
He's surfed since he was 11 years old and I've always thought of him as a surfer dude. Funny thing about that is that I never really heard him use (what us non-surfers would thing of as) surfing lingo until he and Mary were chatting about the sport aboard Mabrouka. I can't even resurrect any but the most straight forward terms like left and right breaks, but it was entertaining to hear the two of them get excited about the surfing conditions in Bahia Santa Maria.
Dave has inherited at least part of his dad's real estate holdings in Ocean Beach. His sister has the other part and between the two of them they hold what amounts to a family compound consisting of four dwellings on two lots just a couple of blocks up from some of Dave's favorite surfing spots at Sunset Cliffs. He's taking a skilsaw and a paint brush to his properties there one at a time.
He's also got a home in Bremerton, Washington. I remember going up there for job interviews many years ago and taking advantage of his hospitality. Man, was I impressed with his home with it's expansive, bluff-top view over Port Orchard channel. That was part of what sealed the deal for me taking a job in the lovely Emerald State.
Technically I already knew this about him, but I was reminded that he's also several types of an artist. First of all, he avidly pursues oil painting, something I understand to be a difficult medium requiring a lot of refined technique. What was particularly entertaining on the trip down was the revelation that he likes to write music. At one point there was a nautical turn of phrase that caught all our attention, "...the Tropic of Whetever..." Unlike the rest of us who threw it around occasionally in conversation, Dave picked it up and ran with it. Here are the lyrics to a song he came up with:
Tropic of Whatever
I was drinking in a bar down Cabo
She was steering the seat next ta' me
By her lines she looked as a cruiser
Kind of old school, sailin' down by the lee
Bye n' bye we got into talkin'
'Bout boats, n' hopes and the sea
I could see she was a salt and not a poser
With trimmed phrases that didn't run free
As the earth spun the sun into the ocean
And the sky winked a coy green farewell
I got the nerve up to ask her
Her course was at the morning bell
She said "I'm bound for the Tropic of Whatever"
Sailin' downwind; surfin' the swell
I'm crossing the Tropic of Whatever
I'll anchor where no one can tell
My rhumb line leads to Whatever
For I follow the the gull and the whale
Outbound for the Tropic of Whatever
Alone in my ship I shall sail
10/27/2014, Departing San Diego, CA
With things as ready as they'd ever be, the big day rolled around for departure from San Diego. Mabrouka was in pretty good shape and her paperwork was at least complete enough to give the impression of good intentions. Dave Milligan, being a San Diego local, was coming from his Ocean Beach home just across Point Loma and didn't move aboard until departure day. Mary McCarthy had flown in from Santa Cruz on the 25th, so had been aboard for a couple of days.
We were all chomping at the bit to set off. After striking a few memorable poses aboard Mabrouka for the camera, we cast off the lines an hour before the scheduled kick-off parade so that we could spend at least a few minutes together honing our crew skills before hitting the high seas. It was an exciting time that generated more than a few butterflies in my stomach.
The bay got crowded in a hurry, with somewhere around 120 boats marshaling at the northern end of Shelter Island for the procession southward across a start line that was marked by the press boat at one end and fireboats spewing water at the other. It was somewhat amazing, but I know of no collisions. CNN was there, but I haven't heard if Mabrouka made it into their sound bite.
The Baja Ha-Ha is loosely organized as a race, though that's really a laugh in every sense of the word. (It's most dramatic effect was to increase rates for anyone that told their insurance company of their participation.) Every boat is on the honor system to keep track of the time it takes to transit each leg from start to finish, tallying motoring time versus sailing time. When there's not enough wind to get boats moving, the Grand Poobah of the Baja Ha-Ha can call a rolling start that allows the use of engines without penalty.
Such was the case when we set off for Mexico on the morning of October 27th, so the beginning of Mabrouka's Big Adventure was anticlimactic in the extreme. The real start was beyond the breakwater about two hours later. It was less of a melee than the parade in the unrestricted waters outside. With no wind, the Poobah (as we familiars know him) called a rolling start.
It was a beautiful day, though, with the bright blue sky reflecting off the sparkling water and the nearby Coronado Islands rising as we approached. Inside the islands or outside was the strategic choice to be made and I wavered, for some time the Libra in me considered compromise and going between them. I think the wind was still blowing straight down (Get it? Straight down? Not left or right, this way or that. It's a sailing thing.) for either route, so I opted for shortest distance and stayed on the mainland side.
10/19/2014, Harbor Police Guest Docks, Shelter Island, CA
Anchorage in La Playa was a pleasant stay. It's in the crook of Shelter Island nestled in between the San Diego YC and Southwest YC facilities, so there's a fair amount of entertaining boat traffic to and fro. I especially enjoy the SDYC sailing school activities on Saturday and Sunday. Weekend only anchorage is regulated there on a reservations basis by the San Diego Harbor Patrol and was Ha-Ha-ers were given priority status for the month of October.
Shore access provided a minuscule taste of cruising life since all that was available was beach landing, but I enjoyed even that, dinghying ashore for several Ha-Ha events, not to mention running errands.
Sunday afternoon I hauled anchor and toddled back over the the Harbor Police Guest Docks at the end of Shelter Island. I'd tried to make a reservation there again, but the office was closed and their on-line system wouldn't allow mooring in two places at once and couldn't comprehend that one might move from one spot to another except on the stroke of midnight. I was able to get far enough into the reservation process to discern that certain slips were at least momentarily available, so I poached a spot anyway.
That was only a partial success, since someone made an actual reservation after I'd gotten off line, so I had to move. It worked out in the end, though, and I made a formal reservation for a different spot the next morning, staying all the way through departure day, several days longer than I'd planned.
The Harbor Police docks were a Ha-Ha haven with almost all the boats flying their Class of 2014 Ha Ha pennants. Southbound friends Andante, Friday and Cool Change had all pulled in and whoever I didn't know from before became or would become new friends. The normal camaraderie of cruising sailors grew several-fold.
As far as my immediate neighborhood, Andante was in a slip kitty corner across the dock. Right next to me was a non- Ha-Ha boat, so they don't count. Richard and Jenny Freeman in their Island Packet 45, Plan Sea, were my immediate port side neighbors to start with, but they moved over to more luxurious accommodations and were replaced by Captain Art Lohrey and his intrepid young crew on the classic wooden Alden 72 schooner, Dirigo II. John and Jennifer Gleadle were across the way and over one in SV Spinnaker, a Corbin 39 center cockpit. Chris and Heather Tzortzis and their FIVE kids were a couple of slips over in their big, Lagoon 470 catamaran appropriately named Family Circus. I hardly even saw him, but right across the dock was Ron Orr in his bright red Hunter HC 50 go-fast sloop named Fast Reorrg. Confused by the name, I asked him about it one day and he explained that he'd combined his last name with a reference to his profession as a corporate bankruptcy lawyer. Ahhh, THAT makes sense now.
10/17/2014, La Playa Cove, Shelter Island, CA
I stretched my three free days at Coronado Cays Yacht Club into four to sync with three days of free anchorage at La Playa Cove just inside Shelter Island. That didn't start until Friday and free moorings are an essential part of a cruiser's budget plan. Departing again with my buddy boat from Chula Vista YC, I headed back out and reversing my tour along the industrial part of San Diego Bay.
This time I had my camera out, planning to take pictures of the many unusual craft I'd seen on the way in. There was another MLP under construction at NASSCO, similar to the one I'd seen at Blake Island in Seattle and off Camp Pendleton on the way to Oceanside, but this one had structure spanning the gap between the high bow and high stern. It looks like an ocean-going freeway overpass.
NASSCO also had a littoral combat ship in dry dock, a huge trimaran hulled fighting ship. My understanding is that it's supposed to be manned by a relatively small crew and outfitted ad hoc for different missions as required. I wonder if it's as fast as it looks.
There was also some sort of experimental, four-legged SWATH (small water plane area, twin hull) character parked under the Coronado bridge and not far away a new looking, high-speed aluminum catamaran transport ship. As I took pictures of that thing, the Navy Seals whizzed by in one of their go fast boats.
In contrast, the super yacht M5 was moored next to the San Diego Convention Center. Originally built as the Mirabella V, she's the largest sloop rigged (single masted) sail boat ever built.
Getting back up to the Shelter Island area was important to simplifying access to the upcoming Baja Ha-Ha events. I wanted to attend a couple of radio seminars that were being held and participate in the Ha-Ha barbecue and crew party.
The biggest item on my departure todo list was to finalize my paperwork to get the crew and the boat into Mexico. Last year some well-intentioned bureaucrat had attempted to clean up their process, but the effort led to the biggest SNAFU in Ha-Ha history. I won't throw out numbers because I don't know them, but there were many boats that went down to Mexico last year, including Ha-Ha-ers, that got impounded by the authorities because they didn't have the new eyes dotted and tees crossed. Everyone, including the Ha-Ha organizers, was gun shy about a recurrence. Ha-Ha announcements were warning us away from attempting our paperwork while things were being clarified.
Confusion persisted right down to the last minute, eventually advising only that things were still screwed up, but that anyone who exhibited good intentions needn't worry about problems with the officials. The long poles in the tent of Mexican paperwork were the visas for captain and crew and the Temporary Import Permit (TIP) for the boat.
The visa process was all on line, but was only in Spanish and, even for Spanish speakers, the forms were confusing. I got on line at the Point Loma library and waded through them where I could print out copies of everything. The TIP was more problematic. With the persisting advice to delay, there was now less time left before departure than the process was predicted to take. In desperation, I called the Mexican Tourist Board for advice and eventually decided on a plan to drive to the border crossing at Otay Mesa to apply for and buy my TIP.
As far as I know, no one had considered this an option, even the Mexican authorities advising the Ha-Ha organizers. I teamed up with Sherri off of Spring Fever to make the trip, she with her fluent Spanish and I with Dave's truck. It was a bit of an adventure in finding one's way with only verbal instructions, a paucity of street signs, and no map, but we made it and we flew through the process in fifteen minutes with amazing smoothicity. We felt like heroes back in San Diego where we shared our tale of success with dubious, but amazed Ha-Ha-ers. There was more than one boat captain who followed our bread crumbs.
With that I finally had all my paperwork in order and assembled it in a three-ring binder with separator sleeves to keep it all neat and clean: TIP, US and Washington State boat registrations, international boat insurance, Mexican liability insurance, my passport, my crew's visas and a crew list, dinghy manufacturer's point of origin documentation, the station license for my radio, the prescriptions for my offshore first aid kit, and extensive documentation for my living trust that shows that my estate trusts me to take Mabrouka into Mexico. It was quite an effort.