San Lucas to San Diego: 750 miles uphill!!
It’s May 21st, the
temperature is 90 degrees in Raven’s main cabin, the wind is blowing
desert dust into everything, and it’s time to get out of Cabo and head
for San Diego. Signe “Nothing Sails to Weather Like a Boeing” Ramsten
Twardowski abandoned me . . . er, I mean . . . flew home yesterday, via a
visit to Paul and Michelle in San Francisco. Pleading, “I really, really
have to get the garden ready for the Big Wedding this summer,”
(admittedly, a pretty good excuse) she exercised her spousal discretion
and also demonstrated her high level of intelligence by opting out of
‘The Baja Bash,’ as sailors in Mexico know it fondly. She did leave us
well supplied with gourmet treats, probably enough food to get us to Maui
The Baja Bash is the reverse of the Baja
Ha-Ha (note the change in terminology and attitude!) rally we were part of
last November. It covers the same 750 miles, but this time it’s upwind,
up-waves, and up-current at a time of the year when the contrary winds are
usually strong. It can be a battle all the way, and one boat has already
been lost this year (the solo skipper was saved just as his boat sank) so
it’s nothing to take lightly. The books all say ‘Wait till July’ but
insurance companies — who want the boats out of Mexico before hurricane
season starts in June — and haulout schedules drive most of us to make
the trek in late May.
Happily, three really good cruising
friends, who apparently have the same warped perspective that I do,
actually volunteered to leave their boats in Puerto Escondido and
crew aboard Raven for the Bash. Lesley and Bob of ‘North Road’, who
won their class in the Banderas Bay Regatta, are competitive sailors who
like challenges and want to see how Raven sails. Stef of ‘Circe’ has
been cruising Mexico for five years with his wife Marilyn, and is going to
take his boat on the Bash next month, so he wants to gain the experience
for his own passage.
We’ve been doing the last prep items
for the passage — bringing the dinghy and motor on deck, lashing on the
anchor (so that big seas don’t knock it off the bow), changing the
engine oil, installing the offshore safety gear, and battening down the
hatches (yeah, we really do that). All that stuff is much easier when
you’ve got experienced and willing crew who know what they’re doing,
like Stef, Lesley, and Bob. The watch schedule is worked out, the galley
tasks divided up, the last minute shopping done, so now all we need is a
weather window to be able to leave this place!
We wrote about Cabo San Lucas last
November, when we enjoyed the warm weather and the post-Ha-Ha hoopla. But
now, after having cruised Mexico for several months, we can confess that
Cabo is our least favorite town in Mexico. In fact, Cabo seems to have
more in common with Marina del Rey and UCLA Fraternity Row than with
Mexico. The marina is full of sport fishing boats that have little in
common with the cruising mindset. We are in a slip — which costs twice
the highest previous slip rental we’ve ever paid — the only sailboat
among fifty- to seventy-foot powerboats, all with fighting chairs,
outriggers, and a zillion rod holders in their cockpits. Big cigars,
sleeveless Harley-Davidson T-shirts, and boat names like ‘Lethal
Weapon’ and ‘Reel Hooker’ set the tone. Getting to sleep early
isn’t easy because of the competing discos. Then from five to seven in
the morning it’s “Revenge of the Thunderboats” as the entire
sportfish fleet vrooms its way out to sea to pester all those tuna and
dorado. And that’s why the fearsome Baja Bash seems to us like a better
Weather reports are always critical for
cruisers, and never more so than now. We have four formal sources of
weather data: 1) our weather fax receiver that can print fifty or so
detailed weather charts a day; 2) photos of the Earth that we download
directly from satellites as they pass overhead several times a day; 3) Don
aboard ‘Summer Passage’ who emails detailed weather forecasts to many
of us daily; and 4) Commanders Weather, a professional weather routing
service used by many cruisers and round-the-world racers.
Of course, all that and two bucks will
get you a nice latte.
Marine weather forecasting is notoriously
difficult, especially when you have all these near-shore thermal
conditions. And then, of course, there are the usual dockside rumors that
confuse us even more. So we’re just going to guess and go!
The reports show relatively benign
conditions up the coast — winds 10 to 20 knots, seas 6 to 8 feet — but
right here in Cabo the local conditions are tougher. There have been 25-
to 35-knot winds off Cabo Falso, the principal cape we have to round near
here. We expect to spend a few hours beating our way out of that stuff,
pounding all the way, until we can get into the clearer air 10 to 40 miles
north. After that, we hope to see those ‘relatively benign’
When to Depart
We hope to leave Cabo soon, maybe today
or on Tuesday, May 22nd. All of which depends on the winds and
when — or if — they decide to calm down a little bit and let us sneak
around Cabo Falso.
We’ll be sending daily updates to this
website via radio email from the boat, so we’ll let you know how we’re
doing. We don’t expect to be very comfortable, nor do we
expect any real problems. Raven is strong and powerful, our engine
is reliable, and we have a great crew. We plan to have fun!
But please wish us luck anyway.
. . . Jan
p.m. Tuesday, May 22nd
Yup. 'Baja Bash' is the correct
terminology. Every few minutes there's a big CRASH as we drop off the back
of an especially big wave and careen into the trough behind it. 'Uphill'
is a really good way to describe it.
We left the dock at 7:20 this morning
after a leisurely hour grabbing breakfast and doing last minute jobs. Had
to wait for the Thunder Boats to get out of Cabo, too, or else risk our
lives if we perchance got between them and their fish! Mainsail hoisted
with a single reef, and off we went to our date with the dreaded Cabo
Falso. And it was indeed fearsome: winds 20 to 28 knots on the nose as we
motorsailed into the six-foot waves. Adding in our own boatspeed, we had
30 to 35 knots blowing across the deck as we all huddled in the
pilothouse. Lots of whitecaps all around, and three other sailboats -- all
much smaller -- attempting the same passage.
But after a couple of hours the winds
slacked to 12 knots and the waves dropped off to three or four feet. Much
more comfortable motorsailing at about 7.5 knots. Raven drives beautifully
to windward this way, with the reefed main strapped down amidships and the
wind at about 15 degrees off the bow. It's a far faster way to get to a
windward destination than trying to sail upwind with jib and main, as long
as you have enough fuel. And we do. At least we hope so. We're taking it
easy on fuel consumption early in the trip, just in case.
Oops. Wind's back up to 16 knots and
we're pounding into the waves more. Sleep could be a little scarce
tonight. Speed is down, too, as the big waves slow us. Each CRASH takes a
knot off the speed until we can catch up again. Then another CRASH . . .
Our watch system is set up: each of us
has three hours on and nine off, which is pretty easy. Plenty of time to
sleep, twice a day. I have 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., Stef has
5 to 8, Lesley has 8 to 11, and Bob is taking 11 to 2.
Lesley whipped up some terrific
quesadillas with fresh salsa for lunch, and I've got a lasagna in the oven
for dinner (yep, one of the frozen easy-meal treats Signe left us). To
that we'll add a fresh romaine salad and French bread. Hmm. Gotta figure
out an easy dessert. Dinner will usually be the one meal a day we eat
together in the pilothouse. When it's rough like this, meal service works
like this: 1) serve salad with dressing in big, deep plastic bowls; 2)
collect bowls and utensils and wash; 3) serve lasagna in the bowls; 4)
collect and wash again; 5) serve dessert in bowls; 6) collect and wash.
We're all kind of used to this pounding
by now, and we're pretty mellow. Chatting in the pilothouse or reading
below to pass the time. It'll take us at least four and a half days to get
to San Diego, if all goes well and we don't stop.
Hasta manana, amigos.
p.m. Wednesday, May 23rd
This is what's called a weather window. We're
lucky and we know it.
Last night was rough through about 1 a.m., with
all that pounding I told you about. The wind was up to 20 knots or so,
with waves to go with it. We'd drop off the back of a big one and smash
into the next. BANG! CRASH! You could feel the mast vibrate and the whole
boat shudder. No sleep for anyone.
But then the wind dropped below 12 knots, the
waves died down, and all was well with the Ravens. By this morning, the
wind was down to 6 or 8 knots and we neared Bahia Santa Maria, 180 miles
from Cabo. That's the second bay where the 112 boats of the Baja Ha-Ha
rally stopped last November. Big, beautiful, open bay that's easy to enter
day or night. We wended our way in and found only two Mexican
fishboats and a single sailboat. We didn't even put down the anchor; just
floated around for a half hour or so to do some checks and minor repairs
away from the ocean swells. Checked the engine and transmission oil, fuel
tanks, bilges and pumps, tried to repair a navigation light (no luck;
gotta use the backup), taped closed the vent that flew open in the
forepeak, and so on. Just the usual small items that arise on passages.
We're now motorsailing on Stage Two, 250 miles
upwind to Turtle Bay, under our usual rig: no jib, single reef in the
mainsail, lying as close to the wind as she'll go. The engine stays at
2,000 RPM, and the whole package gives us nearly 8 knots almost directly
into the winds, with pretty good fuel economy. A great way to travel. The
winds are nothing like last evening, only 10 to 12, so we have hopes for a
We had lasagna, a big salad, and French bread last
night for dinner. Lunch was microwaved Hot Pockets, but tonight's dinner
will be a big step up, courtesy of Lesley. To the melodic strains of Willy
Nelson's "Crazy", she's whipping up, and I quote, "Honey
Ginger Orange Chicken, served on bed of steaming rice, and accompanied by
a medley of stir fry vegetables." We can hardly wait.
My big treat was to take a shower last night
before turning in. Unfortunately, I tried it in the forward shower, which
was particularly violent during all that pounding. Must have my sea legs,
because I'm proud to say I finished the shower and didn't lose my lasagna!
I just came off watch and Stef is up there in the
pilothouse now. The watch keeper's job is to keep the boat driving and
comfortable, watch for signs of problems in the sail or engine. He varies
the autopilot heading as the wind shifts and changes strength. Most of
all, though, Stef is watching the radar screen and through binoculars
carefully for any signs of other ships or boats. Especially ships, which
can be scary. Since we left Cabo, we've seen: an enormous cruise ship, a
huge container ship only a mile away (daytime, thank heavens), a tanker 10
miles off, a 150-foot Mexican tuna clipper (cutting in front of us and
scaring us half to death early this morning), six sailboats, five
sport fishing boats, and so on. Right now, though, we're really alone out
here: no dots on the radar at any distance.
We've also heard talk on the VHF radio about a
sailboat with fuel problems and one with a severe oil leak that means
they'll have to try to sail all the way to San Diego (ugh). We're grateful
not to have had any problems so far.
Stef and Lesley have each had plenty of sleep,
while Bob and I are short a few hours; we hope to make that up tonight.
All of us are keeping our sense of humor and actually enjoying the
passage. Plenty of joking and kidding. I'm very pleased to have recruited
such a competent, energetic, and amiable crew. Great people to share a
seagoing closet with for several days!
Cheers . . . Jan
p.m. PDT Thursday May 24th
We can hardly believe our good fortune.
The wind died off to five knots during
the night and we've been motoring on glassy seas for 18 hours. We're at
Turtle Bay already, while the sailboats we started with have dropped way
back and are now well out of VHF range. This weather 'window' has turned
into a big set of French doors with balcony and terrace. The overcast and
haze evaporated a few hours ago, and Bob and Lesley are reading in the
sunny cockpit. We've all had lunch and hot showers and are feeling pretty
A little while ago, we stopped the boat
again and shut the engine down, just like we did yesterday, to check the
engine fluids, bilges, fuel levels and so on. Did the math and found we
are ahead of our fuel consumption budget, so we have no need to stop to
refuel in Turtle Bay (the ONLY place for fuel between here and Cabo). The
unanimous crew decision was to bypass Turtle entirely and just keep on
truckin' to San Diego in these ideal conditions. Did I mention how lucky
we are with the weather? And how happy we are with Raven's performance?
Since the CRASHING stopped a couple of
days ago, the chief entertainment is no longer keeping a good fingernail
grip on the berth. Now, we mainly pass the time speculating what we'll
have for the next meal, and what messages from friends and families the
twice-daily email session will bring. Oh, and reading mysteries and pulp
novels. Stef taught Lesley how to play Baja Rummy, even though he's
handicapped by the fact that we only have two card decks aboard, and has
yet to win a game from her. Bob is working out how to fit 350-gallons of
fuel tankage into North Road's 37 feet, and he and I are working on our
third book each.
We could arrive in San Diego as early as
Saturday morning. Two more nights at sea and it'll be done in just over
four days! Thoughts now turn to the delights of civilization. I think
we'll all have dinner Saturday at some nice restaurant that doesn't pitch
and roll. Lesley is hallucinating about shopping malls and wonders how
late they'll will stay open on Saturday.
Your favorite crew is healthy, happy, and
lucky. We do miss our families and seeing them will be another reward for
reaching our goal.
Cheers . . . Jan
p.m., Friday May 25th
Only 167 miles to go, and we've been speeding
along at between 9 and 10.5 knots for several hours. We have a light
breeze from the southwest that's letting us carry the jib, and we stepped
up the RPMs a notch because we're way ahead of our fuel consumption
budget. At this rate, we'll get to the Customs dock in San Diego pretty
early Saturday morning.
We're about halfway between Turtle Bay and San
Diego, having crossed the big Bahia Sebastian Viscaino, the last of the
dangerous lee shores on this coast. Only 20 miles offshore now and
closing. We'll pass Ensenada in the middle of the night, so we'll be sure
to stay at least 10 miles off to avoid most of the traffic. Most of last
night the radar screen was utterly blank as you clicked through the
ranges: 1.5 miles, 3 miles, 6, 12, 24, 48. Not a ship, boat, island, or
rock to be seen. Really gives you a feeling for the emptiness of this
region. When Stef came up to relieve me at 5 a.m., I nuked ham and cheese
Hot Pockets for us to ward off the cold and the blackness of the night.
Sleep is getting into a rhythm now, and the motion
is a lot easier. Just these long NW swells, and no more holding on by your
This morning we had a visitor. I had opened a few
hatches to air out the interior, and an exhausted little sparrow showed up
in the fore cabin. He was flapping around and beating his little head in
terror against the portholes and the mirror, so I caught him in a towel
and put him out on deck. Right back inside he went! After this happened
three times, we closed the hatches, found him a cozy hideout on deck, and
gave him a little bread. I'm sure he'll ride with us until San Diego, then
disappear there. Hmmm. Should I put him on the crew list?
We're all tired but still in good spirits. Lots of
chatter during lunch today in the pilothouse. Bob and Lesley studying the
West Marine catalog to decide what goodies they're going to buy for North
Road. Another round of Baja rummy is in the works, too. Stef went
freezer-diving for a couple of those Sarah Lee goodies we know are deep in
there somewhere. As usual, food is our principal entertainment.
Tomorrow . . . San Diego!
Cheers . . . Jan
a.m. Saturday, May 26th, 2001
(Sorry about the two-day delay in posting
this last report on our Baja Bash. Breakdown in communications. Hope we
didn't have you worried.)
We did it in only 100 hours! Tied up at
the San Diego Customs dock at 9 a.m. and did high fives all around. Except
for the first night it was, as we've told you, an easy passage. Stef, who
is going to do the Bash again in his own boat a few weeks from now, is
praying for the same weather.
Our last night at sea was full of
adventures, especially as we approached Ensenada. The ship and fishboat
traffic was dense and our radar had five to eight targets for several
hours. Big change from the previous three days when the screen stayed
blank. During my 2-to-5 watch, there were two LARGE blobs on the screen
that gave me fits. I thought we'd leave them to port like all the other
ships heading south along the coast, so I kept heading a little to
starboard to give them more room. But they kept coming closer and closer
instead! When they were a mere 3 miles away (well inside the danger zone
with fast-moving ships), I called on the VHF and got no response. Ulp. So
in desperation I made a huge turn to port and hoped they'd go by on that
side. Turned out to be two monster cruise ships, lighted up like cities,
heading into Ensenada and right across our path! We passed one of them
close enough to read the menus.
Soon after dawn broke, no one could sleep
and we all showered (thought the Customs man might appreciate that) and
got ready for the Big City. Our welcoming committee was a six-engined
military aircraft taking off on a flight path two feet above our masthead.
Customs was perfunctory and we headed off
to our slip at Kona Kai Marina. Welcomed as returning friends by the
manager, we felt right at home. What was the first thing we did? Yep, all
four of us went to West Marine, not so much to buy things -- that'll come
later -- as to simply walk the aisles and admire all the stuff we couldn't
get in Mexico.
Stef flies back to Baja Monday, while
Lesley and Bob will spend a few days here making multiple visits to West
Marine. We're wondering if Mexican customs will admit a pair of Canucks
with eight duffle bags of boat hardware!
Now to all those boat jobs I've been
accumulating for months. No more excuses. Sigh. But first, I'm going to
fly to San Francisco to see Paul and Michelle, then home to see my
Warm regards . . . Jan
PS: Sunday, we all attended a Padres
baseball game, just to get back into the rhythm of North America. And
today we went out for a terrific sail -- a real one, not motorsailing --
in 11 to 13 knots of nice breeze off Point Loma. Raven showed her usual
impressive stuff. Paul & Michelle are coming to visit soon. Life is good.