Down the Coast of Baja - Part One
29 November 2013
ENSENADA TO BAHIA COLNETT - 65 nm.
After three weeks in Ensenada we were finally ready to go south. It was a last minute push on Saturday, the 23rd of November because after installing the rebuilt transmission on Friday, we still needed to replace the solenoid on the starter. (Which Jay had thought he conveyed to them but something evidently got lost in the translation.) Alfredo, our mechanic, worked hard, though, to get us in good shape to go and we were set for a Sunday departure date.
We studied the wind and waves and contemplated whether or not we wanted to go to Bahia Colnett (65nm) or San Quintin (110 nm). The first discussion was when to start our journey in order to hit one of those places in daylight. To do this, we determined we would have to leave in the afternoon which meant giving up the possibility of sailing (which was slim anyway- they were calling for 5-10 knots from the south. South? The prevailing winds for this time of year are from the NW! Go figure.) and would end up being a motor sail. The second discussion was which bay did we want to enter. Since we were anxious to go and the weather was benign and we all wanted to sail, we decided to get up early Sunday am and just go. What will be will be.
It was a beautiful morning and the seas were calm as promised. We gave the tuna pens a wide berth and turned left. Finally we were on our way.
Jay put out his fishing lure. Caught a kelp line.
Oh well, try again later.
Put up the sails. Took down the sails.
Oh well, try again later.
It was later now and the wind had clocked around and was coming from the NW. Jay got a twinkle in his eyes and said, "It's spinnaker time!"
I was at the helm while Jay and Don wrestled with the spinnaker, pulling it up onto the deck, rigging it and raising it. The advertisers suggest it's so easy, a twelve year-old girl could do it. Really? We would like to see her raise a 1400 square foot, 1.5 oz spinnaker.
All went well and we were having a lovely sail when Jay got another twinkle in his eyes. "I think it's time to pull out the mizzen spinnaker!"
I had never heard of a mizzen spinnaker before Jay found this one at Minney's. It didn't fit quite right so we had it cut down at Quantum Sails in San Diego. This would be the first time we would fly it. It worked beautifully and now we were sailing down the coast going about 6 knots. Jay was ecstatic.
Soon the sun began to set and we had to make a decision. Bahia Colnett at 7:30 pm or San Quintin at 2:00 am. Either way we were going to be anchoring in the dark and it was a black, black night. We chose Bahia Colnett.
Originally, we had planned our trip so that when we were doing overnights the moon would be full or at least more of a full moon than less of a moon. But like all things with sailing, they change. The extra two weeks in Ensenada put us traveling on a half to quarter moon. On top of that, she's a bit lazy these days and doesn't rise until almost midnight. Not much help from her.
This is when I fall in love with our electronics as we were motor sailing under instruments only. Navigating into a new harbor like this is a bit scarey but Jay was brilliant and between the three of us we anchored safely.
So where are we we all wondered when we woke up the next morning. Bahia Colnett sits alongside sheer cliffs that lead up to a flat plateau. There may be a little village there, but all we could see were three pangas and a sailboat sitting on the beach. The air was still and all was quiet. A nice change from the cacophony of sound echoing from the streets of Ensenada. After breakfast, we pulled anchor and headed for San Quintin.
BAHIA COLNETT TO SAN QUINTIN- 45nm.
Only 45 nm, Bahia San Quintin was an easy motor sail with gentle seas and little wind. No sighting of whales yet, but many dolphins. It doesn't matter how many times I see them, they always bring a smile and a child-like reaction that is pure joy. At one time on our trip they were coming from every direction to check us out and ending up staying for about twenty minutes, taking turns surfing our bow.
Another reason we chose not to approach San Quintin in the middle of the night was we were to pass Isla San Martin and the infamous Ben's Rock. Ben's rock is known for taking down ships and we weren't anxious to be counted as one of them. This time we arrived at our destination at dusk and, needless to say, our anchoring exercises were a bit more relaxed. We did note, however, that we were wise in not entering this bay at night as there were outlying reefs and the lighthouse was situated not on the crest of the cliff but in the center of it. We were thinking that at night it could be misleading.
San Quintin was a much larger bay than Colnett but still we were the only boat there. There was a couple of hotels on the beach, a small town, and an estuary, but we didn't take the time to visit. We had a good weather window and wanted to take the opportunity to go the next 200 miles.
SAN QUINTIN TO BAHIA TORTUGAS - 207 nm.
We left San Quintin at 7:30 Wednesday morning. It was about 40 nm from the Sacramento Reef and we wanted to be absolutely sure we passed this in daylight. Sacramento Reef is another very dangerous hazard. It lies 2.5 miles wide and 2 miles long, is buried under the sea and can be surrounded by kelp. Bottom line - give this area a wide berth. Fortunately, no problems there.
Day left and night came. The sky had clouded over and now we no longer even had the stars to give us light. Again, it was a black, black night. A long night where we took turns, alternating at the helm and napping, sort of. It was uneventful (fortunately) albeit a bit stressful sailing between two islands you can't see.
Oh, except for the time I told Jay, "I think you had better come down here." I was plotting our positions on paper charts while Jay was doing the same electronicly.
"I think we're headed for Isla Guadalupe." I said.
Jay furrowed his brow and said, "I don't think so."
With a closer look I realized that Guadalupe Island was an insert on the chart. It was placed over the outer waters of the ocean (where we were traveling) and there was a small notation of the coordinates which placed it far west of where we were. Oops! I guess it's true what they say, "Two heads are better than one."
There is nothing better than to see dawn on the horizon after a long night's sail. We had just passed the San Benito Islands to the west of us and were now heading alongside Cedros Island to the east. It was a beautiful sight.
Then we got a wonderful gift. 17-20 knots of wind from the NE as we left Cedros Island and into the channel heading to Isla Natividad. Cadenza is a heavy boat and she comes alive at 18 knots. We liken her to a thoroughbred horse riding through the waves. Two and a half hours of incredible sailing with Don at the helm enjoying every minute of it.
When it was my turn at the helm, the winds calmed down to 10 - 15 and the seas flattened out so it continued to be a great sail, just a little slower. What a day!
Our estimated time of arrival at Turtle Bay was 2:30 pm. Around 12:30, Jay said, "This goes against what I usually say, but let's have a beer to celebrate." And so, motor sailing back along the Baja coast and closing in on the entrance to Turtle Bay, we enjoyed a toast. We were exhausted but elated to have had a safe trip. Don was in mid-conversation when I spotted something in the water.
"Lobster pots!" I yelled, interrupting him. "Quick. Go to the bow!"
I was at the helm. Don ran to the bow. "Neutral!" He yelled back. I shifted into neutral.
"Take down the sail." Jay said. He and I dropped the genny.
"We're hooked!" Don cried out.
All I could think of is we wrapped the line around our prop. OMG!
Quickly, Don grabbed the boat hook and he and I grabbed the line as it began to be sucked underneath the boat. I followed the line to the stern of the boat, pulling it up as we went. "I can see it. It's clear!"
"But wait! Don't drop it!" Don yells to me. "We need to think about this."
Jay maneuvered the boat in such a way that we could release it and we were free.
Whew! Too much adrenaline after a night with little sleep.
In Captain Rains' book, Mexico Boating Guide (Excellent! A must have for cruising Mexico.) she warns us of these lobster pots when you are coming through between the San Benitos and Cedros Island and we watched for them there, but we weren't expecting them as we neared Turtle Bay. But they were everywhere. Sets of three buoys, just small floats about 8" x 6" would be tied together with polypropylene line. The locals here told us these buoys might be holding over a hundred pots (or receivers, as they call them) below. The lines are deceiving because they stretch out beyond the last buoy and it wasn't long before we caught another one. Fortunately it caught on the bottom of the dolphin striker and Don was able to yank it off.
Two hundred and seven nautical miles and 29 hours later we sat down with a glass of wine and a smile.
Today it is Thursday and we are spending Thanksgiving in Turtle Bay. Another story for another day.