Baja Haha 200710 Dec 2007
Much like the sailor tails of yore, I found myself shanghied on a sailboat in a foreign land. This is my story.
It all started at the Baja Haha party in San Diego, which takes place the day before the start of the Baja Haha sailing rally to Cabo San Lucas. I had done the Haha twice already, once on my own boat ‘Scirocco’ in 2001, where I met my girlfriend Cherie and several other great friends like Rennie and Anne. I had done it a second time in 2003 aboard Rennie and Anne’s ‘Cassiopeia’. Because we all had several friends who were doing the Haha this year the four of us decided to drop into the party and say our goodbyes to those leaving for Mexico. Rennie, a retired United captain, ran into a friend of his, another united captain named Mike. All but one of Mike’s crew canceled at the last minute and so he was going to do the Haha very short handed. There was free beer there, and after several of them I decided to volenteer to crew with Mike so he’d have enough crew to have a comfortable trip south.
It’s tough with two to do multi-day trips, especially when ‘racing’. It can be exhausting because for 12 hours you’re on watch, another 8 hours you are up anyway cause it’s the middle of the day, and then even in the middle of the night you are often woken up to deal with things like spinnaker wraps or vessels crossing very close to your path. So with just two aboard you get almost no rest. I think three is a pretty ideal number, assuming a reliable autopilot to aleviate hand-steering. Everyone gets a reasonable amount of rest only having to have 8 hours of watch a day, and off-watch crisisis are easier to deal with when there’s two people off watch to choose from. My first Haha we had six aboard, and we had a great time. It works well when sailing and a third of the crew is sailing the boat, a third sleeping, and a third doing whatever else. But it can be cramped if you have conflicting personalities, and you are all sharing the space of a small boat during idle times like when anchored in port.
So, in very short order (18 hours) I dropped everything else I had planned for the next month, packed my bags, and prepared for a new adventure.
Leg 1, San Diego to Turtle Bay, 360 Nautical Miles.
Cherie delivered me to the dingy dock where Mike picked me up and ferried me out to Snow Goose, anchored off Coronado. I was impressed with the boat, the preparations were spectacular. The key systems such as the autopilot have redundant backups, everything is in good working order, and Mike was meticulous with the preparations for the trip. Snow Goose is a 50 foot mapleleaf, although I’ve come to call it a 50 foot unicorn; because much like unicorns, sailboats where everything works are equally rare. Dave, our other crew member was already aboard and we rapidly got everything ship-shape to get out of harbor. Raising anchor we found our first treasure of the trip, an abandoned dingy anchor, which wrapped itself around our anchor chain.
A bit about the crew. Mike is the Captain of Snow Goose, and is a retired United Airlines pilot. He’s done some offshore racing such at the Carribean 1500. He’s heading down to the South Pacific after spending a little time in Mexico. Mike is detail oriented and it shows in how well everything has been done on the boat. That’s one of the wonderful things about sailing with commercial pilots. Everything it thought-out and done properly. There’s none of the half-measures, hacks, and otherwise unseamanlike thown-together systems on this boat that are found on many other sailboats. It’s a big ease on one’s mind to not have to constantly worry about what critical system is going to break next. Dave, the other crew member, is a pilot for United Airlines. He is based out of Baltimore where he has a power boat he cruises around the Chesapeake bay. Dave has limited sailing experience, but is enthusiastic. It’s been great spending time with both of them.
Although just prior to the race start there was hardly any wind and everyone was preparing for a motoring start, just five minutes before the gun the wind came up and provided enough strength for a sailing start. We ended up very well positioned on the line and got our chute set and crossed the line well ahead of most of the fleet. We were in very good company crossing with the J-world boat and a Santa Cruz 52. The wind was lighter than we liked, around 12 knots, but it kept our sails full enough that we were able to keep pace with the J-boat all day long. The Santa Cruz 52 daftly pulled ahead of us, although we can’t fault ourselves as we’ve got a rail-mounted-BBQ handycap. We passed the islands off Tijuana, and as Mike and I were having a discussion about how he’d never had a cruising cat pass him in an ocean race, the familiar shape of Profligate appeared behind us trucking along fast. Most crusing cats are loaded down which kills their performance, but in Profligate’s case the boat is kept very light for it’s size and so it moves along snappily compared to most other vessels.
We had a decent sunset, away from the clouds that dominated our departure from San Diego, and as the dark aproached we had our dinner of hot dogs and settled into watches of one-person each. On dave’s watch we had a curious fishing trawler come alongside to observe these crazy sailors with a spinnaker up at night, and just as Dave called me up on deck they cut in front of us causing some evasive manuvering and banging of spinnaker hardware against rigging - luckily no damage was done and we were able to get back on track. That’s one way to wake yourself up at the beginning of a watch. We had a 900-ft cargo ship also on an intercept course - and were able to manuver to avoid it by half a mile. Mike’s chart-plotter can plot AIS information, which is basically transponder data from each of the ships near our position. It gives the vessel name, destination, course, speed, and position, as well as additional data like the type of ship and if they are motoring or anchored. The chart plotter can then take our GPS position and compare it to the AIS data to derive each ship’s nearest approach as we pass each other.
On my second night watch the wind freshened up to 16ish aparent (boat speed 8-9, so 25kts true) and the spinnaker was at it’s limit starting to overpower the autopilot. So at 5AM, in the dark we set to dousing the spinnaker in heavy wind conditions, and my first time dousing the chute on this boat. Luckily the chute has a sock and Mike has figured that we can just blow the tack and it’ll be trivial to pull down the sock. Well that works flawlessly. We continued on for another hour with just the main, then at daybreak we set the jib winged out on the spinnaker pole.
We weren’t trying to catch any fish, although one may have hit the water- powered generator, as we discovered it had broken over the night. was broken. According to the morning check-in we were doing superbly well for the first day of sailing.
First Leg, Day two.
The second day held conditions much like the first. The wind continued to blow in the low 20kt range (true wind) and we were able to sail the rumbline at hull-speed with the main-sail out on one side of the boat, and the jib poled out the other side. It’s kinda funny, the day in the middle of the passage, especially that conditions stayed much the same and no sail changes had to take place. Thinking back, there’s nothing I can really note about the day. It’s as if my memory of it is all but a blank - the day was consumed with the same activities as the 100 other day’s I’ve been on passages doing watches. Check for other boats/ships, check that nothing is breaking, check that the sails are set for the weather conditions we have, repeat this for two hours every six or so.
The sea conditions did build a bit as the strong wind drove up the size of the waves. Imagine lying in bed and having someone shove you at full cow-tipping speed once every ten seconds and you’ve got some idea of what it is to try to settle into sleep with waves going as you are sailing downwind. With time either your body adjusts or the sleep deprevation knocks you out – probably a combination of both. So the latter half of the second night I was able to get decent sleep at the times when I was off-watch and felt more coherent by the morning of day three than most of day two.
When I came up for one of my night watches I noticed something wrong with the jib. It was still poled out and the top looked fine, but the bottom looked floppy. Looking a little harder I noticed the tack was just dangling, not connected to the base of the jib furler. During the night the pin securing the bottom of the jib dissapeared. I went forward and rigged up the jib with a bit of line. Later in the day Mike discovered bolts had backed almost completely out of two lower shrouds (important parts for keeping the mast from crashing down) and we were able to get them tightened back up. The fact that the maintenance/repair list for the passage is pretty short is a testiment to Mike’s preparations before this trip.
We crossed the finish line at 07:08 the third morning out from San Diego; We made very good time. We arrived in Turtle bay proper at around noon. Out of about 170 boats I’d say we were in the first 10 to arrive to the anchorage - many boats had tougher times with the 20 knot winds. We cleaned up the boat, launched the dingy and just before sunset went into town.
Turtle Bay, Baja California
Turtle bay is a sleepy little town on a protected bay frequented only by transient yachts and fishing boats. The town used to thrive around a fish cannery, but modern fishing methods rendered the cannery obsolete and so what’s left of the waterfront is the rusted out skeleton of the cannery and a run-down pier where cruisers tie their dingies to the rusty steps leading to the water. Youngsters wait for the arriving sailors and offer to watch the dingys for a few pesos or some candy.. Going into town one passes a cinderblock shack that serves as a tienda, resturant, and bar. It’s the first place to get a wonderfully cold pacifico or sol beer with a wedge of lime, sit back in one of the plastic chairs with your toes in the sand and watch the flags flutter on the sailboats in the anchorage, securely embraced by the rough red arms of the bay entrance.
Further into town, on the single dirt ‘main street’ are a few tiendas, about the size of an circle-K which sell vegitables, eggs, and soap trucked in from California. Most everything on the Baja Peninsula gets shipped in from California with a corresponding mark-up. Further up is the largest resturant in town, the Vera Cruz. Due to good fortunes from the two days the HaHa fleet is in town they’ve expanded the facility.. The main dining room hosts about eight tables, and a new disco/bar is in a back room with a dirt floor and Mexican oompa music played way too loud. There’s a cement patio in front of the resturant with another dozen tables. All the furnature is the standard mexican fare. Plastic lawn furnature, the kind that’s the cheapest stuff you can find in walmart. All of it is oxidized and chalky from exposure to the blaring mexican sun.
Vera Cruz was practially deserted, with just two other crews in the place. Because of the drastically low traffic we actually got our beers and meals in a very timely manner. Despite the Haha arriving year after year the owners of Vera Cruz have not discovered that they should own more than 8 plates to serve the large crouds. The anchorage continued to fill throughout the day but many of the crews just arriving were too beat to head into town. Turtle bay was much colder than usual. Instead of the t-shirts and shorts I was accustomed to we were equipped with sweaters and forced to sit inside for warmth. I enjoyed the ambience of Turtle Bay, but I think Mike and Dave were taken aback by the rustic decor compared to many landfalls in the Carribean. After exploring town I and the rest of the crew slept like logs, catching up on the sleep missed over the three night passage.
First full day in turtle bay
The morning we spent working off the ToDo list of problems we discovered on the passage. It all went quickly, the largest parts were checking out all the halyards for chafe and double-checking the spinnaker pack. I offered to repair a computer problem on one of the fleet’s boats but got no answer when hailing them at the appointed time. I guess it wasn’t that much of a problem after all.
The morning VHF nets on the HaHa are interesting, although a bit long, as so many boaters who’ve rarely ever used their VHF except to call sea-tow now were getting the feel for using the VHF for social reasons. The “cruiser’s telephone” requires a certain degree of ediqite that is more learned by observation, practice, and repremands from the radio police. The progression from radio anarchy at the begining of the haha to smooth refined communication by the end is something to behold.
Mid-morning Dave and I trekked into town in search of beer. The mercato we found had a very limited selection, not what we wanted, and only had cold beer. Normally cold beer is fine, except that we had to hike around with it till it was warm before cooling it again on the boat guaranteeing it to become skunky. Such is life in a small mexican town, no selection like Safeway - we got a 12-pack to keep the boat stocked. I then hiked out to turtle bay airport, to scout it out for if I’d ever want to fly down to turtle bay to meet up with future HaHa fleets. I found the airfield as well maintained as anything in town, which is to say not maintained since the cannery went out of business. It is suitable for cessnas or cubs but not suitable to my Long-EZ which would either shear a landing gear in a pothole or have a rock take out a prop-blade.
After returning from the airport I bummed a dingy ride from the crew of Tranquilo. I was dissapointed to learn that the ‘listerine guy’ was not in attendence this year. In 2003 he made this stuff by mixing a half dozen liquors that tasted like listerine but would knock you on your butt like nothing else could. When I arrived Mike cooked up an amazing steak dinner, and then we headed back to shore for the Vera Cruz party. We showed up at 8PM, and suprisingly most of the place had already emptied out. There were just like 5 crews left. I caught up with Richard and Donna from profligate, talked to a few other folks, we had a few beers, and when it looked like the final crews were leaving I headed down to the dingy dock. I bummed a ride from Bill of Moonshadow and got to meet his friend/crewmemeber Mark, also from the Newport Beach area.
Second day at Turtle Bay - the beach party.
The next day was the turtle bay beach party. The crew of Snow Goose loaded up in the dingy with a backpack of beer and some raw chicken to grill up for the potluck and practiced our beach landing skills. We got a little fast, got ahead of a wave, and got a little sea-water in the dink, but got ashore without any real danger except to our pride.
The potluck was great, as I got to catch up with a lot of friends who I hadn’t seen since the start of the race.
I ran into Al Holmes of Creme Brulee. I had met Al on the 2003 haha when he and his wife Diane and cat Damnit were taking their trawler down to cruise Mexico. Al is another United Airlines Captain who I met through Rennie. Al was happy to be back down in Mexico and more enthusiastic since it wasn’t as hot and the heat is what gets to him most about being south of the border. I left Al, Dave, and Mike to chat about how unethical the airline executives are and went to find a place to cook the chicken we brought ashore.
This is when I met Chris and Vicky of Wingstar. They had brought in a BBQ grill and were cooking some fish they had caught on the first leg. I asked if I could use a corner of their BBQ for my chicken and struck up a conversation. They are cruising on their boat, with four childeren and only three adults. On their boat I think I’d rather be on watch than off; it’s much easier to face the cruel sea than changing diapers.
After serving up the chicken at the potluck I ran into Christian and Mary of Capricorn Cat. Christian has done six of the seven last HaHas. I met Christian on the 2001 rally when my boat Scirocco ran out of fresh water and I was able to borrow some from Christian who was at the time sailing on a beautiful three-masted 70-foot boat named ‘Millenium Falcon’. Christian was up at the top of the mesa overlooking the beach party taking the ‘HaHa 07 group photo’.
Shortly thereafter I ran into the full crew of MoonTide. Bill and Mark introduced me to the rest of their crew, Tessa, Jennifer, and Angelina. True to reputation Bill had filled his boat up with pretty women.
Hallie, who I met through Cherie’s colledge friend Anita, was sailing in the haha, and the beach party was the first time I ran into Her. I got to meet the rest of the crew from the boat she’s sailing on named ‘Blind Luck’. The blind captain had the good sense to fill his boat up with mostly women, having 8 aboard along with himself and only one other man. I and the crew decided to head from the Beach Party to ‘Mexican Wrestling’, which just happened to be happening the last night the fleet was in town. We stopped at ‘Blind Luck’ on the way and I got to meet the rest of the crew and check out this large cruising (piver style) trimaran.
At the wrestling match the favorite wrestler of the night was a guy who had a skeleton costume and would dance to ‘Thriller’ every time he got into the ring. The mexican kids ate the whole thing up, cheering for the ‘good guys’ and booing the ‘bad guys’. In mexico it’s not just the boys who like wrestling, the girls love it too = perhaps because of the intricate costumes.
Second Leg - Turtle Bay to Bahia Santa Maria - 240 Miles
We got out to the start line, and were playing a bit of catch-up getting into position because the commitee boat set up in a different spot then we expected. We rigged our chute on the wrong side for the wind and didn’t have time to fix it, so we popped up the spinnaker and headed the opposite direction than everyone else we flopped over to the other direction after a couple of minutes and were outside the fleet. This actually seemed to be fortuitous for us, as we had lots of clean air and were further out where the wind was stronger. We worked our way forward of most of the fleet and as the hours passed got further and further away from the shore and the other boats.
On this leg we decided to give fishing a chance. Mike put a reel in on the side of the boat, we tried one lure for a few hours, then another. We heard a dozen other boats on the radio hooping it up about their catches yet we were having no luck. We asked what lures were working for folks and got lots of good suggestions. So we changed the lure on the pole and Mike set up a hand- reel on the other side of the boat. The changes worked out as just before sunset we landed an 8lb tuna which provided a nice course of ceviche. This was the first fish I’d ever bludgened and I may have been a bit zelous to ensure I killed the fish quickly - the back deck looked like a murder scene with blood from the fish.
Just a few hours before sunset there was a metalic pop noise on the boat. This is usually an indicator of something that’ll need to be replaced - and in this case we had the block for the spinnaker halyard let go. The halyard is inside the mast and this is where the spinnaker was now flying from. So we were able to get it down without further incident and sailed through the sunset with the jib poled out opposite from the mainsail.
Leg two, day two - Turtle Bay to Bahia Santa Maria
By early morning the wind had lightened and rather than wallow aimlessly we started motoring. The slightest breeze came up in late morning and we set the spinnkaer and tried to slowly bring up boat speed. We found we could slowly work our speed up, and point more into the wind - our forward speed adding to the real wind speed, creating an effective wind speed the sum of the two components to drive more air into the sails. Using this technique we were able to do 5-6 knots in 8 knots of wind. That wind held for the day and we kept Profligate in sight throughout the day, a pretty good feat considering it’s a much faster boat. By nightfall the wind fell again and we motored the remaining way to the anchorage.
It was a moonless dark night. This was Mike’s first time entering an anchorage at night, but with the help of the radar and keeping a sharp lookout for boats and terrain we were able to find a cozy spot on the outside to spend the night.
The next day I went over to Capricorn Cat to take a look at their ailing generator. It was put in just as they were leaving and it turned out the wiring was not quite right. Captain Wayne and I re-wired the generator while the rest of the crew fed us drinks. Capricorn Cat was also hosting a jam session for the musicians in the fleet. By the time we were done with the generator the party up on deck was in full swing. I had a great time hanging out with Captain Wayne, his girlfriend Carol, Christian and Mary. I also met John and Katie. John is a managing editor for Latitude 38 and was just down for the HaHa. Everyone crewing on the boat was great to hang out with. Banjo Andy brought his banjo over and another fleet musician, Tom brought over an electric bass. Several other musicians from the fleet joined in and the music went through the orange and red burning sunset into the moonless sharply contrasting starry evening. Rather than brave the dingy trip back after so much celebration I borrowed a sleeping bag and spent the night under the stars.
The next morning I made my way back home, hung over. I worked off the hang- over jigging for halibut off the side of the boat ( didn’t catch any ), took a nap, then made for the beach party. There was a strong southerly swell running right up onto the beach, which neccessitated most everyone to take pangas into the beach. There was a band, and they served mararitas, beers, and trays of fish. As sunset came, the line for the departing pangas grew. A couple of guys who came in their dingy tried to motor out through the surf and had a big wipe-out, both of them being dumped out into the surf as the dingy tore up and down into the waves and back towards the beach as if driven by a demon. It came close to running them each over several times before it finally went up on the beach, corralled by some other dingy drivers who came out to assist. This was the wind-up of the party, and now everyone was waiting for panga rides back to boats in the failing light. The giant swells continued and the panga operators had to stop making runs when it was too dark to see the surf. This left 50 hahaers, myself included, stranded on the beach until morning. Everyone tried to make of the most of it, warming by a driftwood fire, or huddling together in the kitchen where the food for the party was prepared. I found a old abandoned inflatable dingy and tried to use it as a blanket on the rocky ground. I found if I slept on my back I was comfortable but contact with the ground sucked all the heat from my body and left me shivering, sleeping on my side made it a little warmer but the rocks pressed into my hip and side, again making it most uncomfortable to sleep. Needless to say it was a long night and I was glad when the sun’s rays started appearing on the eastern horizon.
The pangas finally delivered me back at the boat and we headed out for the big non-start. There was no organized start because so many boats were scrambling to get their crews back from the beach. We again headed offshore first and then gybed around and headed outside the fleet in what we felt was better wind. We re-ran the spinnaker sheets a different way and this greatly simplified our being able to change the direction of the boat downwind. The boat is by all accounts a heavily loaded cruising boat but nevertheless flys down the course. It reminds me of a boat called Raven that I raced against in Banderas Bay Regatta which also seemed to sail really well for a cruising boat. Raven was a Dacheu design, and while Snow Goose is not a Dacheu it does share the same canoe hull with a fat shallow keel. We were keeping pace with one of the fastest catamarans on the course all day long - I’d love to see how the boat sails upwind.
A few hours after dark we had our first spinnaker wrap. I was off watch so I came up groggy from sleep and the spinnaker and sock control lines were wrapped around the headstay. We tried for a while to untangle the mess to get the sock down over the chute but gave up on that and finally did a traditional spinnaker douse with the three of us gathering the huge section of cloth onto deck and into the bag. Mike got the boat sailing again under genoa while Dave and I brought the chute below to re-pack it. We finally sailed into the tropical tempuratures we’d waited for all race long - so repacking a spinnaker for a 50 foot boat in the cramped and hot cabin was a sweaty job. After running spinnaker from bow to stern and re-socking it we brought it back out on deck, double-checked all the lines in the limited illumination of the spreader lights and then re-launched the spinnaker. It took us about 45 minutes from when it wrapped to re-pack it and re-launch it and most of that time we continued sailing the boat. It felt like we did pretty good considering it was the middle of the night.
Leg Three, day two - november 8th, cabo san lucas
The winds died out at about 4 am, just 30 miles from the finish line, so we motored the rest of the way to the line, then rounded lands-end rock and the arches of Cabo and entered the anchorage. On many of the VHF nets the Poobah suggested the east side of the anchorage was the place to be, presumably because many boats will crowd the west end of the anchorage. Unfortunately there was a Adam Sandler movie being shot on the east end of the anchorage, with the port captain shooing everyone out of the east side. As a result the eastern terminus of the anchorage before the movie set filled with tightly packed boats and after anchoring we watched as boats anchored closer than what we were comfortable with, then boats anchored between the first boats and us, and so on. We thought we wouldn’t need a shore boat, we could just walk from deck to deck to get to the beach.
Mike and Dave headed into shore to check us in, and I stayed out at the boat for a swim. I didn’t get much sleep the two previous nights; spent one of them hypothermic on santa maria beach, and the other one with a lot of off-watch sail changes and spinnaker repacking. So I was moving pretty slowly to get packed up and ashore.
Cherie spotted snowgoose in the anchorage and came out with a friend - Bob, who’d she had met at the hotel. She collected me and we went to our hotel, stopping at a great fish taco place on the way. I caught up on my sleep for a few hours then we got our things together and headed out for a night at squid roe, the locally famous dance bar in Cabo. We had a great time and ran into many friends from the Haha and years past.
-- November 9th
We got a late start and had fish tacos for breakfast. I got myself a haircut, which I’ve needed for several weeks, then we headed to the beach party. Cherie and I entered the ‘here to eternity kiss contest’ which involves rolling around in the surf trying not to drown in the waves while looking as graceful and passionate as possible. It was fitting as this was our sixth anaversary of our first kiss which was here in Cabo after the 2001 HaHa. We finished the night with a nice romantic dinner at the Baja Cantina.
-- November 10th
We packed up our gear, checked out of the hotel, and headed out to Snow Goose. After dropping off our stuff and hanging out with Mike for a while (Dave had flown home earlier in the day) we went over to Moon Tide for a day trip to a snorkeling bay up the coast. Moon Tide is a 47 foot lagoon catamaran captained by Bill Lilly, and his crew of four is Mark, Jennifer, Tessa, and Angelina. Also joining us on the journey was Lynn from Wahoo and Nate from another sailboat. We anchored in this small beautiful cove, with three other boats - mostly filled with snorkeling tourists from nearby resorts. The water was stunningly clear and schools of brightly colored fish swam below our feet. The cove was surrounded on either side by towering jagged tan and red rock formations, with coral covered spires of rock just below the surface, and the inner side of the cove had a gently sloping white sandy beach.
We returned from this beautiful retreat and prepared for the awards ceremony. We managed to secure a second place out of our entire fleet, only losing out to one boat who endured through the calms and sailed the entirety of all three legs.
And that wraps up the 2007 Baja Haha for Snow Goose. After a few days of preparation here in Cabo we’ll be heading for Puerto Vallarta by way of Isla Isabella. We had a great time, and am very thankful for getting to meet so many great folks sailing down through Mexico this year.