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Baja Ha-Ha Rally

November 9, 2000

We are anchored off the beautiful beach at Cabo San Lucas with a major Mexican fiesta going on ashore. We may have to go check it out since it never stopped all last night. It’s either beatRaven (14K) ’em and put in the earplugs or join ‘em and go to the festivities. Yes, we survived the 750-mile trip south from San Diego, along with more than a hundred other boats. There were lots of enjoyable moments, and some unpleasant ones as well. In a nine day period, we had 4 nights at sea, three days sailing under spinnaker, five days at anchor and four very fun parties.

Leg One: Bahia Tortuga

Our first two overnights happened right off the bat, on the first Turtle Bay sunset (58K) 350-mile leg to Bahia Tortuga (Turtle Bay). It took us awhile to get our watch system under control. The first night we took four hour watches all night with two people “on” at all times. This turned out to be a waste of manpower and exhausting besides. The second night (after sailing all day, all night, all day and all night again, just to be perfectly clear!) we had three hourThe night shift (62K) watches, one person at a time, and usually the next one on watch asleep in the main cabin. This worked out much better, but we were really pooped when we arrived in Turtle Bay. The interior of the boat was trashed with life vests, safety harnesses, pillows, blankets, and cast-off clothing all over the place.

The landscape is barren and dry, but the mountains turn wonderful colors at dawn and dusk. (I will be out there painting one of these days.) Turtle Bay is one of those towns that’s a lot more picturesque from afar than it is up close: third world poor, with dirt streets and run-down homes. However, the people were very friendly and the children were cute as well as enterprising. They all wanted to ‘watch’ our dinghy or take our garbage ashore or show us how to find the market or the telephone. And they all wanted Halloween candy. I had some, but I could have used several pounds more. We were one of the first boats to arrive, so we had all of the kids rowing out in rickety dinghies propelled by pieces of wood as oars. They all were practicing their English. We, of course, were practicing our minimal Spanish. As a communication method it works, so far, with candy for lubrication.

The first night there was an informal dinner at the Vera Cruz restaurant, basically a big terrace overlooking the town and the bay. Happy Hour (63K) After a walk up to town on the main drag (unpaved), there was lots of storytelling, encouraged by a few beers and margaritas. We had a rest day — much needed! — while some of the slower boats dragged in. The “official party” was on the beach next to the town. We all had to dinghy over and land through the surf, a very tricky business. You have to Beach party with dinghies (62K) time the sets of waves and ride on the back of a small one, immediately jump out and pull your dinghy ashore, lest you get swamped by the next roller. Most of us have installed special wheels on our dinghy sterns for this purpose, since the beaches are steep and you have to move up fast. There was a crew on the beach giving flashcard scores for landings — and there were some exciting ones. Several boats flipped, losing cameras, food and glasses to Father Neptune. Some people seemed to arrive safely, then lose their footing in the surf and fall over. Lots of wet, laughing people, but no injuries, thank goodness. Happily, with Paul’s skill at the dinghy helm, the Raven crew landed uneventfully and boringly dry.

Leg Two: Bahia Santa Maria

The next leg of 250 miles only had one overnight, so we were getting to be old hands at it. That’s not to say we enjoyed the night sailing it any more, but at least we had a routine going. Michelle was Princess of the Pilothouse and spent the night curled Michelle felling a little better (61K) up under blankets and would awaken at key moments to keep the watch keepers alert. We Ahead of the pack! (radar screen) (62K) spent lots of hours concentrating on the radar screen and, as the trip progressed, the moon became fuller so we could see a bit better. It was like losing a lifeline when the moon set during the night, though. Because we were so far ahead of the fleet, we didn’t have the issues of dodging other sailboats the way some people did. However, we did have to be on the lookout constantly for freighters andMoving with the Kite (61K) fishboats. I had the 8-to-11 morning shift and the

By the second anchorage in Bahia Santa Maria, the real stories were starting to come out. One boat was provisioned with only Spam and freeze dried food, the captain was a reincarnation of Bligh, and one crewmember mutinied. On another boat, the extra hired crew started a fairly intense relationship with the Captain’s daughter. On one boat, the captain proposed marriage to his first mate and immediately put out a call to offload his two extra crewmembers. We started calling all the stories another chapter in the Baja Ha-Ha soap opera, “As the Anchor Drags.”

The beach party in Bahia Santa Maria was a cruiser’s dream. In the middle of nowhere in a huge bay on a white sand beach, aPicnic with friends (62K) very enterprising young Mexican nicknamed Kojak brought in (by panga — small, open Mexican fishing boats) tents, beer, lobsters and fish to barbecue. And a rock band! Picture about 350 people, Michelle & Paul at the beach (62K) sleep and food deprived, just eating, drinking and dancing their hearts out. Lest you think that it was a totally raucous celebration, in all our anchorages there was great concern that we leave the place in better shape than we had found it. Many cruisers, including Raven, have brought clothing, books and toys for the children we meet along the way. We also had beach patrols to make sure the beaches were cleaner after our parties than they were before we arrived. For most of these bays, this was more people than they would see in a year. We were quite the object of curiosity. In Bahia Santa Maria a reporter walked 10 miles from the nearest town to interview the organizers, the publisher of Latitude 38 Magazine and his crew. The reporter had to scare away the coyotes at night with the flash attachment on his camera! We were famous!

There were all different levels of sailors on the Ha-Ha. The group of 100+ boats was divided for competitive purposes into categories according to size, sail rating, speed and “go slow” devices. Our major “ go slows” were a freezer and washer/dryer! They had great division names like Desperado, Guacamole, Huevos Rancheros, etc. There were lots of varieties of sailing style, starting with the diehard sailing puristsThe Happy First Mate (62K) who never turned on their engines, even when there was no wind and it meant they would be arriving just as the next leg was leaving the harbor. There were those who motored all the way, including the two motor boats in the No Comprende Division. Then there were the boats like us, trying to diminish the numbers of nights spent at sea, by motoring if our sailing speed dropped below a certain speed. The biggest thrill for the sailors on Raven was flying our spinnaker for three solid days and breaking a new speed record of 12.5 knots. –all this in sun and warmth! In fact, if you are really curious, you can see a rather fabulous photo of Raven under spinnaker at www.latitude38.com (then click ‘Lectronic Latitude’ in the upper right corner, and then select the “photo of the day” for November 6th).

The family that sails together (61K)As we headed south, we kept watching the air and water The water's fine (62K) temperatures climb. In Cabo, as I write, the water is 78 degrees and the daytime temp is in the 80’s, perfect for swimming off the boat. We also hit the mother lode of lobsters in Bahia Santa Maria. We bartered with some fishermen for twenty lobster tails. One of our neighbors in San Diego had told us that the fishermen really go for knives, fishing gear and American bucks! They did, and did we ever pig out!

Every morning, the organizer, also known as the Grand Poobah, would hold a radio roll call to find out where everyone in the fleet was located, to make sure there were no medical or mechanical emergencies, and to give information about the next activities. He had a great informal style and answered a seemingly endless stream of questions, always with a good sense of humor. This is the seventh Ha-Ha, and you know he’s heard every dumb question before. And when the boats did have troubles, there was always someone in the The Captain and First Mate (63K) fleet who could give advice on how to fix an alternator, pass along a

Lots of boats were into serious fishing, and almost everyone had Paul's yellowfin tuna (59K) we barbecued underway. It was a great scene toFish cleaning 101 (62K) watch Michelle reading our “Fishing for Cruisers” book and giving Paul the step-by-step instructions on cleaning and steaking a tuna. We’re all learning on this trip! There wereTwo heads are better than one (63K) lots of tuna and dorado caught by other boats,Squid art (61K) rod. Also in the wildlife category, we

Third Leg: Cabo San Lucas

The third leg was the shortest and started out perfectly with a 6 AM Now this is Sailing (61K) start and good winds. Everyone raised their chutes immediately and had a fabulous day of sailing. Nearing Just in case there's no food in Mexico (61K) sunset, however, the wind died totally. Following our usual pattern, we lowered the sails and started motoring. I was in the galley fixing a gourmet meal of lamb curry, rice and apple strudel for dessert. I happened to go up to check the radar while I was waiting for the rice and saw a very strange scatter pattern ahead, which we decided was either a big pod of dolphins or a squall. Oh, that it had been dolphins! In the short time that it took for the light to completely fade, the winds went from 5 to 25 knots from abeam, with waves to match. That’s to join the fairly hefty swells from behind that are always with us, making a very confused sea. We passed a very unpleasant night rocking and rolling and being slapped around. It all happened so fast, we had no chance to get the mainsail back up, but did manage the jib. We were all huddled in the pilot house, (and thank goodness for that!) trying to hang on and not be tossed over into someone’s lap. Michelle and I joked that it would be very good for our abdominal muscles!

We crossed the finish line off Cabo San Lucas at about 2:30 AM and the boat traffic increased as we got closer — cruise ships, freighters, sportfishermen, and other sailboats. We really had to keep a close Movies Night aboard Raven (61K) watch even when the radar was still covered in the “scatter.” We don’t like to go into an unknown harbor in the dark, so we lurked outside of Cabo until first light, then went into the beach and anchored – and all crashed into our berths for awhile. The treat later was to jump off the stern of the boat for a rewarding swim.

That night the early arrivers’ party, dubbed the “ Can’t Believe We Cheated Death Again” party, was held at the notorious Squid Roe Bar. We sent our ringer crew to participate on our behalf; the oldsters needed a good night’s sleep. Paul and Michelle were laughing so hard at midnight when they returned that we had to hear all the details of the great people watching they had had. What a scene! They insisted that we go with them the next night. The term “Meat Market” is a very tame description. There is a lot of exposed, giggling flesh in Cabo!

Never enough time to sleep (63K)After another day of rest, reprovisioning, acclimatizing and exploring we were ready for the final Awards Ceremony. We were told it was a “clean shirt and shorts” type event, held in the beautiful launch ramp parking lot at Cabo Marina. The Grand Poobah as host was dressed in tails, a bow tie and his bathing suit. That pretty much set the tone. Prizes were given for the boats that came in Third (most everyone), Second and First in each category. Motoring time, or lack thereof counted a lot, but no one really cared – well, almost no one! The boat that motored the most received the Exxon Valdez Award, and one boat got the Chataholic Award for being unable to shut up on the radio.

Now we are all headed different directions and feeling bereft about losing friends that we’ve made along the way. We hope we will meet some of them farther south. Raven’s plans are to head about 50 miles north to Los Frailes for a couple of nights, then cross the Sea of Cortez to Mazatlan for the big cruiser gathering and Thanksgiving dinner there. Lots of us are planning to spend December in a very wonderful marina in Puerto Vallarta. Then it’s home for a ten day Christmas visit. The time is really flying!

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