11/09/2011, Puerto Los Cabos
It's finally happened. We're stuck - pinned down in a marina because the weather is too bad to leave.
Bad weather is relative, right? It's not raining or snowing or any of those other "northern" style weather calamities. Far from it. The weather is still warm, dry and toasty here in Baja. Our problem is wind, or more to the point, too much wind. Just around the corner, about 10 miles from the marina where we are moored the wind is blowing 25 to 30 knots, which wouldn't be an unmanageable problem if it was blowing that speed from behind us. However, for the first time since we left Seattle (2 months ago!) the wind is now blowing right at us, right on our nose. We would like to go about 10 more miles east, turn the corner on the tip of Baja and head north towards La Paz, but the winds are blowing hard from the north, down the Sea of Cortez. Making that turn would result in a very slow, lumpy and uncomfortable ride.
All is not lost. We are moored in Puerto Los Cabos, just outside the town of San Jose del Cabo, which is not Cabo San Lucas, the "Cabo" most of us are familiar with. In fact San Jose is the polar opposite of the"Vegas Mexico" found in the more well-known Cabo. San Jose is a quiet, local art town and much to our surprise, has a number of very good fine art galleries. For the most part, the downtown is clean, tidy and to my eye, authentic. A very enjoyable place to wander and explore. We plan to return today (via a $5 taxi ride or perhaps the circus bikes) and go shopping at a grocery store several cruisers have recommended.
We are also not the only boat pinned down here. There is a large contingent of Ha Ha'ers moored here as they, like us, are waiting out the weather. Last night a couple of boats organized a pot-luck dinner on one of the docks, to which they contributed a giant amount of grilled fish that they caught on the way here and were needing to cook up before it went bad. Melody fixed a huge green salad (like Melody is so good at). The fish was amazing and the company quite entertaining.
One of the boats moored here is a very traditional, canoe stern Valiant 32 named Saltbreaker. We crossed paths with them once out in the middle of the ocean during leg 2 of the Ha-Ha, which was kind of whacky given we were all at least 30 miles offshore at the time, out in the middle of nowhere with no other boats in site and here we were on a collision course with them. By rules of the road, we had the right-of-way, but gave way since it was actually easier at that point for us to maneuver than for them. Over the radio, they thanked us and vowed to buy us a beer at some point for the favor.
As the rally progressed, we never had a chance to meet them, but learned the crew was composed of 3 guys - 2 twenty-somethings from San Francisco and one of their dads, dad being crew and his son being the owner of the boat. Upon meeting them for the first time at last night's pot-luck (and providing THEM with beer, as we had a growler of Rogue Dead Guy with us, a real change from the Pacifico or Tecate found everywhere here) our first question was "So Saltbreaker... are you guys familiar with Laura Veirs and her album "Saltbreaker"?" Their jaws dropped, saying "yes" and then told us we were the first cruisers they'd met that made that connection. They not only knew of Ms. Veirs, but actually wrote her and asked her permission to name their boat Saltbreaker, to which she said yes. Cool.
So... off to town we go. Sailing teaches you to take what you get and work with it. In this instance, we're opting to go shopping.
11/06/2011, Cabo San Lucas
It's really difficult to know where to start with this blog entry. We are now in Cabo San Lucas and 2 weeks have passed since leaving San Diego aboard Double Diamond. The sheer volume of events that have taken place in that time is hard to process, let alone write down and share in a blog.
Perhaps an apology for not posting any updates during the passage should be the first order of business. Why is a two-part story really, the first part involving technical problems. For the past 2 weeks we have been completely without cell phone service or internet access. Technologically speaking, it is very possible to update our sailblog without an internet connection. It involves the use of our Irridium satphone and some windows-based software. Unfortunately, that software is not-progressed-past-win-95 windows-based software. I guess my easy life of iPhones and iPads have cost me my touch for tweaking junky, clunky old-school software.
I should have attempted a connection to the sailblogs website with the satphone and associated software prior to leaving San Diego when we still had an internet connection and cell service that would allow me to trouble shoot whatever came up. Hopefully I can now have a good long session with tech support while here in Cabo and make this stuff work as the voyage goes forward.
The other part of the sailblog update equation is allocating time to the task. I plead sailing, doing boat maintenance, fishing, swimming, wandering rural Mexican villages, attending Baja Ha Ha festivities and drinking Margarita's in local establishments with really scary bathrooms. These things all take time away from working on blog updates.
The first and longest leg of the trip south from San Diego was to Bahia Tortuga (Turtle Bay), a sail of about 350 miles or 3 days and 2 nights of round-the-clock sailing. There was very little wind leaving San Diego, so the Grand Poobah (Richard Spindler, who runs the Baja Ha Ha and is also the publisher of the sailing publication Latitude 38) instituted what he called a "rolling start" which meant that all the boats could run their engines without penalty (if they did not to exceed 6 knots of boat speed) until he called it off. We ran all night the first night, all under engine power. This was just fine with us as we were happy to put some distance between us and what turned out to be cold, foggy San Diego. The next morning was bright and sunny and the winds had picked up to about 10 knots. Time to sail!!
One of the rituals of the Ha Ha, is the 7:30 AM roll call, where the Poobah runs down the list of boats over the radio and each boat in turn calls in their position in latitude and longitude. This procedure, while a bit time consuming (it takes a good hour every morning to get through all 150 or so boats) it is also one of the safety reasons for world cruising newbies like us to participate in a rally like the Ha Ha. Everyone is tracked and progress (or lack of it) is noted.
The first order of business is reporting medical emergencies and then reporting serious mechanical issues that might prevent a boats progress down the coast. Nothing medical was ever called in by anyone, but several boats had to stop for repairs or leave our anchorages a day or two late, often with the help of other boats who might have parts or expertise in whatever system was broken. We never had a single issue aboard Double Diamond, with all systems working perfectly and nothing breaking along the way - which was a great relief given the number of things that broke on the way down from Seattle. But it was reassuring to know that if we had problems, someone was around to help.
The morning roll call was also a way for everyone to find out a little bit about each other as the Poobah, colorful and entertaining guy that he is, would ask questions of each boat when they responded with their position, drawing us out over the radio for all to hear. With questions like, "So are you missing the Seattle weather?" "Brought any fish onboard?" or for me one morning "So skipper, give us a review of the Lagoon 440". The process all took time, but was quite interesting, as we all huddled around the radio in the morning to listen in.
Right before roll call on the first morning, the Poobah called off the rolling start and most boats began sailing in earnest. We sailed all day and then again all night, reaching Turtle Bay mid-day of day three. The sailing was all downwind with reasonable wind speeds of 10-15 knots. We ran the spinnaker round-the-clock, flying it for almost 50 hours straight, a personal best for us and Double Diamond.
With each anchorage, first with Turtle Bay and then with Bahia Santa Maria, we began peeling back the layers of being in Mexico both figuratively and literally. It's not like we crossed some line and suddenly it was hot outside with warm water. At Turtle Bay the first thing we did was go swimming, but wet suits were in order as the water was only 68 degrees (compared to Cabo's 82 degrees, yet another 400 miles south). Night time on the water still required fleece to be warm.
It was at the next anchorage, Bahia Santa Maria, where things began to really change. The water was 74 degrees. We no longer slept with a comforter and going ashore wearing anything more than shorts and T-shirts was not comfortable. Bahia Santa Maria is the largest bay I've ever seen, where the distant shore of the bay, a continuous crescent of beach backed by sand dunes from one end to the other, was not totally in view at the other end because of the curve of the earth.
For us, the big event of the second leg was seeing a blue whale. It came up alongside us and announced its presence with a loud blow as it breached, startling us all. It swam alongside us for a good half hour - and I mean right alongside us, not some-distance-away-alongside-us, first going behind the boat and then coming up along the other side, then tailing us again. It was actually quite frightening at first because of its immense size, being almost twice the length of our 44' boat. A collision with it could have done real damage, perhaps even sunk us, but after a while it became pretty clear that the whale knew we were there and was maneuvering around us. Eventually it fell back behind the boat for a third time, dove and just disappeared, to where we could not tell.
While moored back in San Diego, an elderly man living aboard next to us with his wife, asked if we intended to fish while traveling south. Yes! He looked over our poles and reels and pronounced them unfit for tropical trolling and directed us to the local gear store called Squidco whose staff he trusted for advice. We rode our bikes over to where our iPhone directed us and tucked in between a nude bar and an adult bookstore was the window-less establishment of Squidco. $500 dollars later we left with a honkin' thick pole, heavy duty Penn reel filled with 100 lb test and a bevy of cedar plugs and Mexican flags (a type of lure). I mention all this because my first reaction upon seeing the whale was to frantically reel in the lure we were dragging, as the last thing I wanted to do was hook into that thing. Although that certainly might have earned us some oohs and aahhs had I announced to the Ha Ha fleet over the radio that we caught and released a 50 ton whale, the potential for carnage was not worth it. More likely, it would have caught and released us.
We actually did catch fish, though. Our first haul was a decent sized Mahi-Mahi that we landed, bludgeoned to death and then promptly, somehow, let slip over the side of the boat and back into the ocean. Man... were we crest fallen when that happened. We had fish blood absolutely everywhere, but no meal to show for it. The following day, we hooked into a small tuna, which we were determined not to lose. Melody grilled it up, using it to top off plates of Arugula salad for lunch. Yum. We were now real fisher-people. Although several boats caught immense amounts of fish, even bringing in squid and sword fish, we only caught one other the rest of the trip. It was a good sized Dorado that made up into 4 big filets and fed us that night for dinner. We have plans to buy more lures and gear, as trolling from the back of a sailboat boat really does work in the tropics. Dare I say we're hooked?
On the third and final leg, from Bahia Santa Maria to Cabo, the layers really began to come off. Now we could sail at night in shorts and T-shirts. With the water approaching 80 degrees, the evening air was cooler than the water. We've had groups of dolphins swim with the boat on numerous occasions, but now they were with us late at night, swimming alongside us in streaks of phosphorescent light. Huge glowing, sparkling fish, swimming alongside us, under us and in front of us like live lit torpedoes. It's difficult to describe how beautiful the effect of this is and occurring at night, moving at 7 or 8 knots through the water, it's impossible to photograph or video. It all seemed more like a visual effect from a sci-fi movie like Avatar. Glowing, streaking packs of dolphins at night in crystal clear water can only be described as off-planet and other-worldly. And to be hanging off the front of a moving catamaran at 1:00 AM in nothing but a pair of shorts, talking with the dolphins (we swear they hear us - and that they respond) is rather surreal, especially for a cold weather sailor from the Pacific Northwest.
We've now spent 3 nights in Cabo and closing ceremonies of the Ha Ha took place last night. In our division (Multihulls, or the Margarita Division as they called us), we placed second in time and speed, although in humorous tongue-in-cheek, Ha Ha tradition, there were 3 boats ahead of us tied for first.
Cabo, of course, is completely unlike the other 2 places we stopped. This is Vegas Mexico, complete with Discos and large hotels. The main beach, off which we are anchored, is wall-to-wall hotels and condos, looking more like a scene from the French Rivera instead of Mexico. It has its charms though. We swam from the boat to the beach yesterday afternoon for an early evening cocktail at the resort in front of us. Then we swam back to the boat. Pretty fun. It was also fun to hear the couple at the table next to us talk about how if they had that catamaran out there, they would be tempted to swim into the bar for a drink. We never said a word.
With the Baja Ha Ha officially over, we are now on our own, although we now know lots of boats and their owners that are heading our direction for La Paz and the sea of Cortez, just as we had hoped would be the case. Boats are pulling up anchor this morning and moving on. I'm sure we will run across many of them as we move on from Cabo ourselves. Cassandra and Keith go home tomorrow and we will miss them dearly as they have been great, great crew. At that point, we will truly be on our own and sailing on alone. The big push to get south is now over and the warm water wandering begins on Tuesday.
Busy, busy, busy...
As we draw close to the start of the Baja Ha Ha rally on Monday, the pace of preparations aboard Double Diamond here in San Diego are ratcheting up. Keith Stone and Cassandra McDermott, our crew members for the trip, have arrived and we are all busy with last-minute tasks in preparation for departure.
Melody and I have made innumerable trips on our circus bikes to the local grocery stores, stocking up on food supplies for the next 2 weeks at sea. We have every nook and cranny stuffed with things to eat. Probably overkill, but we aim to eat well (read: have some variety) or at minimum, not starve between here and Cabo. A big thank you to Ehren and Samantha Goetz who took us around town yesterday to Target and Whole Foods for those last-minute, hard-to-procure-on-our-bikes shopping items!
Having Cassandra and Keith on board is a mixed blessing. I say that not because of any flaws they possess, quite the contrary. They bring real sailing skills to the party. Rather, it has to do with missing our original crew members, my nephew Aaron Berndt and his wife Kaycee. They were originally going to join us, but as feared (no, that's wrong, as HOPED!) Kaycee became pregnant several weeks ago and it seemed to us that being in the early stages of pregnancy and swirling around on the ocean was not a good combo. We are missing them aboard dearly, but are so happy for them at the same time.
Today will be action packed. We have to drop off final paperwork with the rally committee, attend a skippers meeting at 11:00 and at 1:00 go to the traditional Baja Ha Ha Halloween costume party. Many of the folks are grumbling (including us) that it's hard enough to prep for a trip like this, so why throw a costume party at us on top of it? Oh well... Melody is making paper boat hats for us to wear and printing off $1,000 bills to stuff in them for our costume - a play on the old B.O.A.T. joke. (Bust Out Another Thousand).
Mixed in there is getting gas for the dinghy, topping off the propane tanks and procuring a last few spare parts and tools. Plus, Keith being a sailboat rigger by trade, is going up the mast this morning to tighten the rig, which has not been re-tuned since its purchase 3 years ago. Not that it's in terrible shape or anything. It's now been stretched out on the open ocean and is just a little loose. Cassandra gave the boat what she termed a "Three Bucket Wash" yesterday, so I certainly cannot complain that these two crew members don't bring anything to the party. DD is looking pretty good to go.
Was it only last weekend that our totally charming grand children came to San Diego for a visit? (Along with our daughter and son-in-law, of course). We had a wonderful time, regardless of how long ago it now seems. The Zoo, the Midway Museum and a day at the beach were the highlights, but swimming in the hotel pool adjacent to the marina seemed to be the real hit with the Leif and Io. They are absolutely fearless in the water and I commend their parents for getting them into swimming lessons at such a young age. It really shows, as they are genuine water babies. And did I mention smart? Oh, and cute? And to top it all off, Rachel and Britton are doing a fabulous job of parenting them. Honestly, it's impressive. They are all a pleasure to spend time with.
On Monday. we leave San Diego. 180 boats are to depart around 9:30, parading in front of a pier full of TV reporters and with a fire-boat send off. Should be completely crazy! Next stop, Bahia de Tortugas, then Bahia Santa Maria and lastly, Cabo San Lucas, a total trip of about 800 miles. I think we're ready.
We've made it to San Diego. Let me say that again: WE'VE MADE IT TO SAN DIEGO!!!
6 weeks ago, I doubted we were going to make it out of Anacortes, let alone get all the way down the coast to some mythical place like San Diego. Turning left out past Cape Flattery and Neah Bay was momentous. The idea of getting to San Francisco seemed like sailing to Borneo. Now we're in San Diego, making preparations for sailing to Mexico and it feels like we are preparing to enter Neverland. San Diego is its outskirts and we're getting ready to open that next gate to what feels like another world.
So yeah, San Diego. Speaking of another world. The temps yesterday were in the 90's, but close to the water the air was moving and cooler, more like mid-70's. Our son Ian told us that yesterday in Kirkland, temps never made it out of the mid 50's and that fall is really closing in. This will be the first fall of our lives where we've not experienced it - a season both Melody and I have always rather enjoyed and considered our favorite. One sees a lot of T-shirts in the shops around SoCal proclaiming something about endless summer and perhaps that's not just boasting. We'll see. So far, it seems true.
The first thing we were struck by while sailing into San Diego is the fact that this is the home of the US Navy Pacific Fleet. Oh. My. God. Yes, this is truly ground zero. Scary to see and awe-inspiring all at the same time.
Coming down the waterway towards the city, from just inside the open ocean is an airfield on the right that has something like 50 F-14 Tomcats all parked on the side of the field, wings folded up like on a carrier deck. Next to them are 20 or more twin-rotor helicopters (uh, big ones...) and then around the corner from that are another 50 or so regular combat helicopters, one or two of which are constantly landing or taking off. Then a little past that, moored behind a mile of floating fences, are 3 gigantic aircraft carriers, with planes being loaded on deck by cranes. And on the left, opposite that first airfield is an enclosed pen with a couple of submarines floating in it. We have yet to get further into the bay where the destroyers and carrier escort frigates are moored. Wow.
Then there are the constant small reminders that these things are not just for show or some kind of movie backdrop. Small things like rigid black inflatables buzzing around, marked NAVY SECURITY, manned with guys in black uniforms and 50 caliber machine guns mounted on the back deck. Mind you, these machine guns are not covered discreetly with a tarp.
We attended a marine radio class on Tuesday night that was held a mile or two from our boat, so we went to it via dinghy. Coming home past the fuel dock about 9:30 that night there were five or six large black dinghy's filled with guys in black uniforms, apparently engaged in some form of night training. A little freaky for those of us who've never been in the military and have had very little exposure to this kind of stuff.
It has been a very busy few days so far, arranging for repairs, attending a few boating related classes, shopping for supplies and spare parts. No sight seeing other than what we happen to pass by going to and from where we are moored, which is a lot to see, actually. We're pumped to have Rachel, Britton and grandkids come for the weekend and in addition to all the trip prep, we are busy piecing together an itinerary for their visit. So far it seems that the Zoo, the Beach and a little sailing in the inner harbor and perhaps out on the open ocean will be the highlights. We'll see.
Funny thing is we're moored close enough to the San Diego airport that, if the airport had a dock, we could pick them up in our dinghy. It gets a little loud around here during the day (Rachel and Britton may think they are back in their old house in Georgetown), but things settle down at night. Regardless of our jet noisy neighbor, our moorage is fabulously picturesque and we have no complaints about where we are spending these 2 weeks. Shorts and T-shirt weather certainly doesn't hurt.
Truly I've not seen water this blue. A deep, clear blue. Perhaps as we get farther south and into more tropical climes, this will be come the standard. But for now, this water stands as the benchmark. It also rather confirms that we are no longer anywhere near home.
In Avalon Harbor we are also surrounded by a sea of humanity, something of a counter-point to the crystal blue water. LA is here en-mass. We are surrounded by boats of every size, shape and type and by buzzed boaters of every size, shape and type. On shore is the mass of humanity brought to the island by ferry - large Victoria-Clipper style catamarans.
And this is the slow "off season"? Holy Moly. The thermometer hit the low 80's today on shore and is in the mid-70's out on our boat. Looks and feels like full-on summer to us.
Avalon as a typical water tourist destination was certainly confirmed when we awoke our second morning to a full-on cruise ship anchored out off the harbor entrance. We explored onshore with our bikes the previous day and got a good idea of what Avalon was like beyond the waterfront, so there was no need for us to go back and see what the place was like when inundated by cruise ship passengers.
Not that Avalon is devoid of charms. It's very cute in a Roche Harbor-On-Steroids kind of way. The general architecture theme is California Spanish, with an active waterfront packed full of shops, bars and restaurants. Behind the waterfront are neighborhoods full of small beach houses - which is interesting given that there isn't a beach here.
The predominant mode of street transportation is golf carts. They're everywhere and outnumber cars like 10 to 1. It's a nuance that is really quite charming. The carts even have license plates.
We left Avalon on the second morning heading for the north end of Catalina if for no other reason than to make sure our impression of Catalina was not just based on busy, busy Avalon alone. We motored to Emerald Bay, which was essentially empty. Well... empty of boats.
Like every little bay and indentation we saw on the way there, Emerald Bay was filled with mooring buoys. When I say "filled" picture a bay full of mooring buoys arranged as if you were at a drive-in movie. There were 6 rows of buoys in Emerald with about 25 buoys in each row. My calculator says that's enough buoys for 125 boats. I've been amazed to see up to 125 boats in Echo Bay on Sucia Island at summer peak, but spread out and anchored in a bay 20 times the size of Emerald. Fortunately we were here in the off-season and had only 2 other boats with us in the whole little bay. Along with a fleet of empty buoys.
Emerald Bay is appropriately named. The water is a crystal clear blue and we could easily see the bottom, moored at our buoy in 25 feet of water. We got out the wet suits and snorkel gear and went for a great swim, exploring the kelp beds and sandy in-shore bottom. Visibility had to be 40 feet+. Standing on deck that night, I could see the bottom clearly with my flashlight.
Yes, the water is quite clear and blue, but in addition to the mobs of boaters, there is another land-based problem here in LA LA land. (Surprisingly, even though we're 20 miles offshore from the mainland, Catalina Island is still in LA County). The issue? Helium Balloons.
On our way north from Avalon, we stopped and picked out of the water at least a dozen balloons and sets of balloons that had lost their lift and were now floating derelict in the ocean. Happy Birthday balloons. It's A Boy balloons. Just Married balloons. Happy Anniversary balloons. One was hand-lettered for Kyley.
The worst offenders seem to be the Mylar balloons, as we encountered them floating in the water about 2-to1 compared to regular balloons. We're beginning to doubt that Mylar balloons ever decay, the paint only seems to fade. One particular blue metallic Mylar balloon dripped blue color all over our deck. Imagine what it was doing while in the water.
On our way to San Diego from Catalina, a trip of about 80 miles, we stopped another dozen times or so to pick up more balloons out of the water. You can see them bobbing in the water for quite some distance, especially the metallic Mylar balloons which reflect the sun quite brightly. Mind you we were anywhere from 10 to 20 miles offshore for much of the day, so you can see how far these things can range before dropping into the ocean and how long they float after they do. Based on their condition, it would appear that many of them had been in the water for quite some time. Not to rain on everyone's special event parade, but when you see something like this, you begin to wonder if these balloons ought to be outright banned.
Balloons aside, the ocean surrounding Catalina and offshore of Southern California is teeming with wildlife. We've seen virtual fleets of dolphins and several pods of whales. The whales are actually kind of scary, because even though we've always been some distance from them, you can still get a feel for just how gigantic they are. If ine ever hit our boat.... Pelicans, a bird we never see in Puget Sound, are everywhere. At first they seemed rather prehistoric and even ugly, like some form of Pterodactyl. But they are very graceful flyers and skim the ocean surface like a glider, never moving a wing.
Reserving thoughts on Avalon, pending further investigation. Stay tuned.