Sunday, November 23, 2008

Cabo San Lucas to La Paz

With Scott departing the crew in Cabo San Lucas, that left Kathie and I to continue the cruise. After anchoring out overnight off the east beaches of Cabo San Lucas, we got an early morning start on our first leg to La Paz. Since we didn't have to follow a schedule, the plan was to break the trip up into day sails since there were obvious anchoring spots along the way to our destination. The first leg consisted of a 38nm sail to Las Frailes (the Friars), a small bay protected against the north winds of the Gulf.

Las Frailes was named by the Spanish for the cliff rock formations that resemble Friars climbing stairs out of the Sea of Cortez. We anchored less than 30 yards off shore of the rocky headland later to discover that we chose a spot farther east than what was described in Pat Rains Baja Cruising Guide. The consequence was that we anchored in a boulder field and had to dive on the anchor in about thirty feet of water to determine how best to unwind the rode from the boulders the morning we were ready to depart.

The moonrise over Las Frailes was haunting. The lone tree on the rocky escarpment was framed by the rising full moon. The moon light shimmered on the waters surface, rising and falling with each gentle swell and wind ripple. This is a beautiful anchorage that we shared with about thirty other boats with ample room to spare for double that number.

We spent two days anchored in Las Frailes and after unwinding our now chaffed anchor rode from around the boulder field, we hoisted anchor and began our sail northward to Bahia Los Muertos, 47nm to the north-west. We started this leg by motor sailing the first several hours and then, due to transmission glitches, ended up sailing. Our progress to the northwest was slower under sail and much longer since the wind was on the nose.

By nightfall, the wind had diminished considerably, further slowing our progress to our goal. By 05:30 the following morning, we enjoyed a glorious sunrise which was only equaled by our joy of entering Bahia Los Muertos, ending a longer sail than expected.We were both extremely tired but glad to be able to finally anchor and rest in this snug sandy harbor. The good news is our anchoring team work is beginning to improve and we're gaining confidence in the holding ability of our ground tackle.

Had anyone seen us when we arrive at Los Muertos, they would have been surprised to find that we only spent one night recuperating before setting out again for La Paz.

After napping much of the morning, swimming in the late afternoon and enjoying a peaceful nights sleep at anchor, we were ready to push on towards La Paz the following morning.

The final 55nm sail to La Paz couldn't have been much better. Leaving the shelter of Bahia Los Muertos and entering Cerralvo Channel the winds were light and from the south. We motor sailed for the first several hours to keep our boat speed up to 6 knots to insure reaching La Paz during daylight hours. By early afternoon, the wind had increased enough to maintain our speed reaching off under sail alone..We enjoyed warm clear sky's with the temperature up into the high 80's. The wind waves didn't exceed six inches and the sailing was a treat. The whole coast of Baja was covered in a hint of green suggesting the recent hurricanes, while passing to the north, had managed to bring precipitation down as far as Los Muertos north to La Paz.

When we reached the entrance to the San Lorenzo Channel, the wind increased in velocity and we changed to a closer reach. The boat was happy to boom along at 7.5 to 8 knots. Rounding the buoys marking the shoals at San Lorenzo the course to La Paz became a down wind run. To simplify our sailing and minimize an accidental jibe, it was decided to roll up the jib and sail under main alone. Struggling to roll in the jib as it luffed and filled, we cranked up the engine and headed up wind until we had the jib rolled up. Once the jib was secured, we headed back down wind under main and engine toward Bahia de La Paz.

Kathie and I were both struck by the realization that after years of traveling to La Paz overland and dreaming of how it would be to have our own boat here, we were actually in view of the Magote and a view of the city ahead from the cockpit of our boat. Passing Pinchilingue and the Pemex refinery, I was so excited that I ignored the charts and was late in recognizing the marked channel into the bay. Overhearing two boats on channel 16 discussing the coming fate of the white hulled sailboat on the other side of the shoals from the channel caught my attention and allowed me to finally see a red buoy about a half a mile to my left (oops, red, right, returning)! I changed course towards the buoy only to hear the radio exchange mention that now that boat was heading straight for the shoal. A quick reassessment of the channel markers made me aware that I had sailed past the first three buoys and, indeed, was now heading towards the shoals. With 60 feet still showing on the fathometer, I changed course (both to my relief and the relief of the two boats on channel 16) and made my way back to the start of the channel entrance to the bay.

Progress towards Marina de La Paz on the west end of the Malecon was slow due to the ebbing tide. At 2700 rpm Citla was making about 4.8 knots over the ground. In the absence of current, that engine speed would be pushing us along close to 6.8 knots. The good news was that the transmission had worked flawlessly since leaving Los Muertos. The other advantage of working against the tide was that it gave us more time to pick up the bouys as we made our way up the unfamiliar channel. By 17:15we had docked at our boat in slip 132 in Marina de La Paz. We shared the same dock as Tumbleweed our 1982 Cal 39 sister ship who made their way down from Washington on the Baha-ha-ha.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

San Diego to Cabo San Lucas on Baja-ha-ha XV

We're now members of a not too exclusive club of Baja-ha-ha veterans having sailed the fifteenth running of the cruising rally from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas. In the span of eleven days, including two lay over days each, at Bahia de Tortugas and Bahia Santa Maria, the majority of the 140 boats that set out from San Diego made their way into Cabo San Lucas.
The hardier souls began this rally from points north and south of the starting point of San Diego. Ports all up and down the west coast, from British Columbia to La Paz, Mexico were represented. There were also entries that sailed in from New Zealand and Australia (well the boat from Australia was shipped to the west coast). A majority of the boats were successful in completing the entire race, but there were a few who, due to mechanical problems (hydraulic steering) or rig failures (dismasted at the start of leg 2 from Bahia Tortugas to Bahia Santa Maria), had to withdraw. The first leg from San Diego to Bahia de Tortugas started off cold and foggy but with great off shore winds that blew through the night. We opted to ride the offshore breeze, booming along at speeds of 7 to 8 knots throughout the night. We flopped over to the onshore jibe just before sunrise at 92 nm offshore, hoping the inshore fleet had dying winds over night and hadn't made much progress to the finish. Unfortunately, around 10 a.m., the wind went to zero and we were obligated to take a motoring penalty to make our way back to land. The breeze picked up some towards the end of the third night bringing us to an unfamiliar landfall in the middle of an electrical storm with intermittent rain squalls. The remainder of the night was spent navigating to openings in the cloud cover to avoid the lighting strikes occurring all around our position. We tacked inshore at dawns first light to make our entrance to Tortuga bay in the early morning daylight. Two days were spent in Tortugas, including time for a beach party and a Halloween celebration with the kids of Tortugas. This is a town of 2,000 souls at the end of a 140 mile stretch of bad road in from the inhospitable Viscaino desert. Fishing and canning represent the major industries in this hard scrabble town. In addition to candy for the children, the fleet also brought in basic school supplies which are always appreciated.

Leg 2, from Bahia de Tortugas to Bahia Santa Maria, began in benign conditions forcing the regatta to start from a 'rolling' start (e.g., motoring at no more than 6 knots until it was determined there was enough wind to sail). This leg was the next longest leg, requiring two overnight watches to make anchorage at Bahia Santa Maria.

The calm early morning conditions allowed for some fishing. Within minutes of setting a hand line from the stern we hooked a dorado. As soon as we brought the fish to the boat, it managed to shake the hook and swim away. Approximately 10 minutes later we hooked into a ten pound tuna. The next 45 minutes were spent filleting the catch and filling the remaining space in the refrigerator. The paucity of cold storage space ended our fishing for the day.

Light winds gave way to more blustery conditions by late afternoon. Winds picked up to between 15 and 25 knots and the seas grew in size as we left the inshore waters. The sailing was exciting and fast. As the Baja coast receded east, we picked up two distinct wave patterns running at 45 degrees to one another. The waves continued to build throughout the evening into night. What had been 4 to 5 foot waves had now built to 6 to 8 foot waves with occasional breaking crests. It made for very uncomfortable conditions requiring some agility to keep from being thrown around while dodging charts, books and laptops that managed to break loose and fly across the cabin. These conditions remained with us for the next two days until we were within 12 miles of the entrance of Bahia Santa Maria where the contours of the geography began to influence the size and direction of the waves. Entering the bay brought welcomed flat waters.

As with the stop at Bahia Tortugas, a beach party was organized with the people of Bahia Santa Maria. With the help of pangeros from nearby Lopez Mateo and a band in from La Paz, the small fishing village of Santa Maria prepared a fish and shrimp stew with rice and crackers to feed the Baja-ha-ha fleet. It was a very traditional fish camp meal that allowed the people to generate some needed cash flow. The bay is beautiful, large with good holding ground for the 100 plus boats that were visiting.

While some of the gringo's lost their way through the waves to the beach, the pangeros managed to navigate the small wavelets with ease.
Motor sailing along the west cape brought views of some spectacular houses perched on the cliffs. Rounding lands end brought the famous arch rocks into view, along with moored cruise ships and two of the old Kiwi 12 meters match racing with paying passengers.

We checked into Marina Cabo San Lucas late Thursday afternoon and spent a few hours recouperating from our journey. Immigration and the Port Captain's offices had closed for the day, so we planned to do the check-in shuffle on Friday. Due to the influx of boats from the Baja-ha-ha fleet, Immigration was overwhelmed to the point where we spent from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. getting our tourist permits. The Port Captain's office had closed for the day by then, committing us to stay until Monday to officially check into the country and simultaneously, check-out. Monday's visit to the Port Captain's office was efficient and we were ready to leave the marina by noon. We took the opportunity to refuel and left the harbor by 1330. Being relatively late to make the 35nm sail to our next overnight anchorage at Los Frailes, we chose to anchor off the east beach from Cabo and make an early morning start to our next destination.