We did it. We escaped La Paz. (And... we even made it back. And then... we successfully left. Again.)
Not that La Paz is a bad place or anything like that. It's not. It's great. But it does seem that the old adage about cruising, which says something about the hardest part of cruising being casting off from the dock is true. I would add that it seems to repeat itself in miniature at every major port along the way with personal examples in almost every previous post.
Regardless of what we now see is a common sailors lament, it is truly necessary to avail yourself of a place when your boat or its equipment is in need of repair or you are out of supplies. In doing so, it's pretty easy to get caught up in the cycle of one thing leading to another (and another) when working the boat to-do list and then having that list somehow start growing rather than shrinking.
On Thursday we said enough is enough and cast off into the Sea of Cortez for a little island hopping, buddy boating with Ned and Carole aboard their boat Frannie B. We were not able to go very far away (nor sail with Ned and Carole for very long, who were intent on continuing to head north - yes!) because we needed to be able to return to La Paz on Monday the 21st to pick up Dennis and Cindy Peterson who were coming to sail with us for 10 days. Our goal during their visit is (was) to sail a bit more up into the Sea of Cortez (weather permitting) and then head across to Mazatlan, from where they will fly back home to Seattle (Woodinville, to be more precise) and we will continue sailing on to Puerto Vallarta. It will be very nice to have crew for the overnight passage to the mainland side of the sea.
While we didn't venture far from La Paz on our first escape, it did not take long to enter a new world. First stop was at Bahia San Gabriel on Isla Espritu Santos. San Gabriel is a huge bay with a long beach and many sea treasures washed up on it, some of which may make it home for Christmas to a couple of grandchildren we know.
Second stop, Isla San Francisco. What a place. I'm not sure if this is the quintessential Sea of Cortez island or not, since we haven't seen much of the Sea of Cortez, but this island is a real gem. A picturesque, semi circle beach with a fabulous desert hill-hike full of glorious views.
Third stop, Bahia Amortajada. Here we were able to paddle the kayaks up into a mangrove lagoon, something we've never done. From time-to-time we wonder if carrying the kayaks around on our boat is worthwhile, as we haven't found that many opportunities to break them out. We're no longer wondering about that. The kayaks were perfect for the lagoon outing and standup paddleboards (which we keep eyeing...) would not have been the right tool. We need both you say? Yeah right. And then a bigger boat to carry it all. Ha!
Bahia Amortajada has one other attraction that none of the guide books talked much about and that genuinely blew us away. It adjoins a forest of cactus, specifically, a forest of Cardon Cactus. Perhaps describing cactus as being set in a forest seems odd, but it really is a forest and there is no more apt description as these cacti are huge, the size of trees and there are several square miles of them growing up a slope from the beach. Being from the Pacific Northwest where we have TREES (capitalized on purpose - our trees are generally LARGE) and having hugged my share of them, I assure you that when I describe what we saw as a forest, it was a forest, although I must note: not a single tree in it was even remotely huggable. I have images of the place permanently burned into my minds eye, as it was so unexpectedly beautiful. I'm not even sure we got a decent picture of it. Couldn't see the forest for the trees, perhaps?
Last stop was San Evaristo, where we made it to just before dark, anchored and then left early the next morning to dash back to La Paz. Sorry San Evaristo, we barely knew thee. (Yeah, I know. I'm full of clichés today. Maybe it just happens when you're digging deep in the bottom of the writing barrel. Oops. Did it again. Sorry.)
For our last hurrah in La Paz, we actually went into a marina this time and rented a slip for few nights at Marina Costa Baja (or Marina Costa Lotta, as Boomer, one of our neighbors and new-found friends in the Marina dubbed it). Nice place and contrary to Boomers name for it, we found it rather inexpensive by North American "nice marina" standards. Maybe it was that Ha-Ha discount.
We splurged for the slip since we had company coming to help get the boat to Mazatlan and taking on crew is much easier at a dock as opposed to ferrying everyone and their baggage out to a boat at anchor with the dinghy. We also needed to do some intensive re-supply if we were going to feed five of us for ten days, sailing out into the middle of no-where in the Sea of Cortez and then doing a 2 or 3-day crossing over to Mazatlan. Additionally, we had a day visit from Dave and Diana Richardson from back home, along with their kids (well... grown-up kids in their 30's) who spent the night in the hotel adjoining the marina. That day we took the boat out with 10 of us aboard to a small bay close-by, swam off the boat and proceeded to have a couple too many Margaritas. Except for the Skipper, of course, who only went swimming. No, seriously. Ask any of them about that expert spin-and-back-in docking maneuver I executed upon our return. Sober as a judge.
Re-supplied and with 5 of us aboard (Jeff, Melody, Dennis and Cindy Peterson with their daughter Jade) we exited La Paz. (No, really!) This time leaving was easy with nothing hanging on the boat to-do list. Time to go!
We spent a nice evening anchored in Ensenada Grande, where some Ha-ha friends from Tacoma, aboard their sailboat Murar's Dream, brought over fresh caught tuna they made up into sashimi, complete with wasabi and soy. Yum. Spent the morning snorkeling in the bay and then made our way back to Isla San Francisco for that great hike. Us misplaced Americans feasted on Game Hen that night for our Thanksgiving dinner. Even though turkeys were available at the stores in La Paz, there's no way our little propane-fired oven could bake one. The Game Hens were a good, thoughtful compromise. Melody did successfully bake up a pumpkin pie though. Yum!
We left Isla San Francisco early the next morning with the intent of going about 60 miles north to Bahia Agua Verde, but unfortunately Mother Nature had other plans. She can be kind of a Honey Badger at times. The north winds totally kicked up about 3 hours into our sail north and we just motored into it until bashing into the oncoming waves became just a little too much. We were about 2 hours short of Agua Verde when we decided to cut the day short and duck into a very small bay that afforded some north wind protection, a bay named Los Gatos. An appropriate place for a cat, no?
And then it finally happened. We've been boating for quite a few years, but I cannot say we've ever been totally pinned down by weather - at an anchorage. Yes, we've had to hole up in a marina or two (which happened just a few weeks ago in Cabo San Jose), but this time we got pinned down in a small bay, on anchor and we couldn't leave. Heck, it was blowing so hard inside the anchorage on the second day that we couldn't even safely launch the dinghy for a walk on the beach.
Cabin fever seemed to be lurking just below the surface on day 2, but not quite like it might strike back home in Seattle. At least it was warm and sunny outside, even if the wind was blowing in the high 20's and low 30's, inside the anchorage no less. We were in shorts and could get sun out on the decks, wind and all. We read books. Jade and Dennis even swam a little off the back of the boat, but we had a line floating in the water for them to grab onto just in case they got swamped or started to drift off in some uncontrollable fashion.
We were anchored in just a small bite of shoreline, barely protected from the wind that was raging just 200 yards off our starboard bow. We got lots of swell that curved around the point, but we were tucked up close enough to a small crescent of land to escape the really big stuff. In truth, the boat can handle wind speeds and wave heights that we were seeing beyond the spit, if we wanted to sail out into it. The ride would certainly be uncomfortable, but it would be doable. As the boat anchored next to us commented, the waves outside the anchorage looked like migrating herds of buffalo running by. (As an aside, imagine this: we talked on the radio every day with the folks in the big power boat beside us, anchored not 75 yards away, discussing the weather, the anchorage, how our boats were handling it all and the like, but we never actually met each other until the 3rd day of this ordeal. None of us wanted to get out in our dinghies and go over for a visit. We just chatted on the radio about twice a day.)
Our goal had been to make our way a bit further north in the Sea of Cortez to see more of it and to also position the boat for a steeper downwind angle to Mazatlan. In the weather we had, getting further north would be a real upwind bash and perhaps even impossible. We could just hightail it out of there and head downwind back to La Paz, but, uh, been there, done that. So we sat out the wind, waiting it out and keeping our fingers crossed that the weather would lay down and let us get on our way.
Except for having to hole up in Los Gatos, we've had some fun on this outing. Even being stuck in the bay was not all that bad. It certainly imparted a heightened sense of adventure. We caught a large Dorado (Mahi-Mahi) and a small tuna in the days before Los Gatos. Dennis had a heck of a good fight with the Dorado, which turned out to be a 41 inch male. It really fought and made for a very tasty dinner the first night, tacos the next afternoon and with another dinner still left. We really needed to eat the tuna, especially as it appeared to be high quality blue fin. But we didn't have any wasabi. How can one have sashimi without wasabi? No way. Instead, we grilled the tuna for dinner and decided it was Bonita, not Blue Fin. We definitely need a better tropical fish identification book on board.
On the fourth morning, the winds had eased to the high teens and the weather files I downloaded over the satphone showed decreasing wind speeds over the Sea of Cortez for the next several days. We pulled up the anchor (a device we now have greater respect for, maybe even feelings of affection) and headed out, intending to go directly south where several other anchorages exist that would give us options in case the weather was still too severe.
After about an hour of sailing, it was pretty clear that the winds were perfect in terms of speed and angle for a downwind run to Mazatlan. I asked the crew if they were ready for 30 or 40 hours of non-stop sailing and everyone said "yes". So a little deviation in the plan: off to Mazatlan - now! Whoo Hoo!
We've been in La Paz for 5 days and we need to leave. Now. Unfortunately we can probably come up with a million reasons to stay right here. Forever. The scary thing is that it looks like staying here forever is what happens to many cruisers, once they get here. Seriously.
There are 3 large marinas here and they are 95% filled with American (and Canadian!) boats, many of which have been here for a long time and many of which appear to be live-aboards. Most of the boats are all in great shape, mind you. We're not talking about derelict squatters. These cruisers all intend to go somewhere else again, someday, but for now they are here in La Paz and seem content to stay. The anchorage next to town (which is where we are anchored out) is filled with boats and from what we can see, they are almost 100% U.S. and Canadian.
The community of Americans here (and if I may digress... I really wish there was a better term for people from the United States. Isn't Mexico and Canada geographically part of the America's too?) Anyway... The number of Americans here is huge. We go ashore everyday and everyday we see cars with license plates from Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, Nevada, British Columbia - you name it. There is a local, largely American, club for Cruisers http://www.clubcruceros.org/ and every morning at 8:00 AM, they have a VHF radio net for weather, questions and answers, community announcements, you-name-it. Go to VHF channel 65 and it's "talk radio", where you can talk about current events with whoever is listening. There is a real boating community here and it is very (North) American.
Yet, at the same time, this is not a tourist town. Downtown has a good mile of waterfront promenade and never once have we been approached by anyone to buy jewelry or timeshares or boat excursions or... anything. This is not Cabo. That alone is awesome. There are several huge, well-stocked grocery stores (heh, one is named MEGA) within walking distance. Several decent marine supply stores are within walking distance. The restaurants are plentiful, tasty and reasonably priced. Riding our bikes deeper into downtown where it's really Mexican has been completely fascinating. The locals, even if they cannot speak English (or us Spanish) are friendly, warm and inviting.
One tourist thing we did do was to go along one morning with another couple to snorkel with the whale sharks. It cost $50 a person for the outing, but it was completely awesome. The shark our guide found was at least 30 feet long. Check out this video of one from Thailand.
Although we were snorkeling in shallow water rather than diving in deep water as in this video, the shark with which we swam was this size, this gentle and this beautiful. Now that we know where they hang out, I suppose we could just run the dinghy over to the beach where they are and find them for a free swim, as it's not more than a mile from where we are anchored. And again, have another reason to never leave La Paz.
Regardless, there have been other reasons to be here. We have excellent cell service and have been able to talk with everyone easily. We have a fast (and free) WiFi connection to shore. There have been several almost day-long boat chores to complete and we've gotten most of them done, yet I still ought to change the oil in the engines which, of course, means another day in La Paz. There is a big welcome party tonight being put on by Club Cruceros for this years Baja Ha Ha participants, many of whom we are now becoming good friends with - another reason to not leave La Paz. However...
One of the reasons for coming to Mexico is our desire to see the Sea of Cortez. The weather window for doing so comfortably is rapidly closing for the season. Already we have noticed a change in the temperatures and things are cooling, much as predicted by our guide books. Morning temperatures are now in the mid-60's and the sea temp has already fallen by several degrees.
A few nights ago it rained hard all night, which according to some local cruisers is the first rain that's fallen here in at least a year. We loved it, Seattle-ites that we are. It felt like home for a night - kind of. Yes, it rained and it rained hard, but it was not cold and we never had to turn on the heat. Regardless, the wind and the rain totally freaked out some of the other folks here in the anchorage. Winter (at least the Mexican version of it) is coming to the Sea of Cortez and we would like to see a little bit more of the area beyond La Paz before going east across the sea to the mainland and then south to seek out the warmer weather as is our plan.
But can we ever, ever get out of La Paz?
Made it out of San Jose Los Cabos - finally. Motored upwind for the better part of a day and beat the living daylights out of Double Diamond doing it, but we've moved on.
First stop: Ensenada de Los Muertos, the Bay of the Dead. Which is actually quite alive, regardless of its past history of having been the place where 18 Chinese sailors died of Yellow Fever in 1885 after having been denied landing rights in La Paz. The bay is a long crescent of south facing sand, bracketed by tall headlands, providing excellent protection from northerly winds, which is what pinned us down in San Jose and beat us up going north to this bay. We are trying to make it north to La Paz and this bay is a logical stopping place for doing so, as it is a little more than halfway there.
We arrived late in the day at Los Muertos, setting the anchor as the sun set on us. We thought about leaving the next morning to make our way to La Paz, but after waking in the morning to such a quiet, peaceful bay, we decided to stay. Snorkeling and swimming around the boat was our first order of business, next order of business was to walk the beach and somewhere in there we contemplated a walk up to what looked like an interesting resort complex.
About that resort complex... It is brand new, with a magnificent multi-layered perch on a bluff overlooking the ocean and the bay, done in a Spanish Revival style and looking like a renovated Spanish mission complex. Seeing it from a distance, Melody was enchanted by the architecture and although it looked like quite a hike from the beach to its location on the overlooking bluff, I spotted a shortcut along the shore that cutoff the entrance road, even though it was a bit of a scramble through the cactus and the rocky side-shore of the bay.
The entrance gate to the grounds is made of heavy, dark wood doors placed in a surrounding 20 foot wall, Castle-like doors that are tall and wide enough to drive a semi truck through. They were swung wide open, with gardeners working the inner grounds, so of course in we went, looking for the reception desk to enquire about room rates, etc.
We looked around the inner courtyard, trying to figure out where reception might be. With nothing obvious, we followed the main open hallway/entrance, opening a couple of side doors as we went along, which seemed like logical places for the main desk to be located, yet we kept coming up empty handed in our search. The doors just led to hallways that had the delicate aroma of spa. We walked down to the pool overlooking the ocean with its infinity edge and sunken, well-stocked bar and passed by sliding glass doors of several suites that opened up to the pool with unbelievable views of the ocean beyond and which were impeccably furnished. I resisted taking one of the elevators I saw, thinking all the while that we really needed to find the front desk before wandering any further.
About this time, a gentleman walked up to Melody and in Spanish, asked her if he could help her. She answered him with "Hotel"? and "Resort"? He said "No, Private". In an instant we realized that we were not supposed to be there. This was not a resort hotel we were wandering around in. This was a private residence! The woman on the couch next to the pool, talking on her cell phone was not a guest. She was the owner and this was her house. We apologized as sincerely as we could muster in our embarrassment and made our way back to the front entrance and out, accompanied graciously by one of the house staff. (Yes, staff.)
We later learned from some locals that the house was owned by a Texas oil exec, that they were very nice people (which is confirmed by the lack of weapons that confronted us...) and that our mistake in thinking that the place was a boutique vacation hotel was an honest one. After all, this "house" is 26,000 square feet. Should I say that again? A house (a vacation house, no less) with 26,000 square feet of interior space. And grounds to match.
So back down to the beach we went, shaking our head in wonder at that magnificent place, its architecture and the economics behind it, all the while giggling at how we could just saunter in so oblivious and nonchalantly. We concluded that there was one essential thing missing for such a well-appointed villa: a sign out front that in some tasteful, discrete way gave notice to the architecturally curious that this was a private residence. The scale of the place just didn't convey that.
Anchored in the bay with us were several boats that participated in the Ha-Ha, some of whom we've met and many whom we've not. With 150 boats involved, it's hard to meet everyone in just 2 weeks. Over the VHF radio, we heard one the boats that had been in the Ha-Ha mentioning to another boat that they ripped a sail in the strong winds they experienced coming here. On the way back from the beach, we motored our dinghy by their boat, introduced ourselves, told them of us hearing their radio conversation and offered the services of our sewing machine, should they want to attempt a repair. This is a sewing machine made specifically for sail repair that Melody bought in Bellingham, used, off of Craig's List.
They were delighted with the prospect of repairing their sail and brought it over to our boat later in the afternoon. Melody hadn't used the machine yet, so setting it up and getting it to work was as much of a challenge as wrestling their big mainsail into our back cockpit (the former greenhouse that is now sans windows) and actually sewing on it. But sewing on it we did, with several of us guys wrestling the sail around while Melody operated the machine.
In the end, the machine worked great and hopefully, we earned major boat karma points for helping a fellow sailor in need. This interlude also reconfirmed for us the usefulness and maybe even wisdom of having joined into a rally like the Ha-Ha. We are constantly coming across boats we know of from those 2 weeks of sailing and with whom we feel some sense of kinship, even though we may have yet to meet the sailors aboard them.
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.