Baja Leg 1: San Diego to Bahía Tortugas

What an exhilarating day!  The firsts that have happened… I’m not sure where to begin.  So, forgive me if this post is less than chronological.

So far, our second passage (unless you count that overnight to Avila Beach) seems far more “old hat” than the first.  After the last passage, I told our awesome crew, Tracy, that I wasn’t sure I could do another passage.  It was her second passage (although first offshore), and she said to give it another shot – for her, it felt different the second time, and she thought it would for me, too.  I think she was right.

First, the anticipation of doing an overnight is significantly less this time around.  I now know what the ocean looks like at night, and what it can do (and what it can’t).  Other than making sure to get enough sleep, sailing overnight now feels little different to me than sailing in the daylight. 

Second, this leg of the trip was about as tame as could have been.  Way too tame, in fact, because we had to motor most of the way.  Both the seas and the wind were relatively calm, which helped keep my sea sickness in check (although not completely gone), and just generally made things more manageable.  But, I really would have liked to sail more.

Third, we had the kids with us.  Actually, we had an extra kid, because our fabulous crew, Jason, brought his six-year-old son, Ashton.  If the seas had been more rough, having the kids probably would have been extremely chaotic.  (Who am I kidding?  It was super chaotic.  But manageable chaotic, at least.)  But with calm seas, it meant that I got to have a night watch or two with my girls.  That quiet, one-on-one time with them was absolutely priceless. 

The trip started off, well, eventfully.  Despite the fact that we missed the opening event.  I was so looking forward to the kickoff parade!  Police and fire boats, sirens, start guns, flags… but no.  We missed it. 

We had to go to the bank to get one dollar bills, because apparently that’s what the locals expect as payment and tips as one cruises down the Baja peninsula.  If you try to offer them pesos, they scoff.  So, Rich and Jason went to the bank, and the store to pick up toilet paper, while I managed the kids’ school and attempted to ready the boat.  We were in good shape, until the bank took forever, for reasons I don’t understand.  No problem, I was going to have the boat ready to fly.  I brought in the fenders, (which we had out since we’d rafted up with s/v Westy the night before,) tidied the lines, and winched in the rode on the stern anchor.  The problem was, I’d forgotten that we added the chain to the stern anchor after our last snafu, so after winching in all the rode, the anchor was still stuck quite well in the bottom, and there was nothing more I could do to bring it up.  So, after Rich and Jason returned, and raised the dinghy onto the davits in record time, we still had to raise the stern anchor before we could do anything.  It took a good 30 minutes to move the anchor to the bow, take the bow anchor off the windlass, and bring the stern anchor in using the windlass.  Meanwhile, the kids – who had been largely self-sufficient up until the point that we started trying to bring up anchors and get moving – needed help with everything under the sun.  “I lost my assignment sheet,” said one.  “Can I have my iPad yet?” said the next.  “I just want more breakfast,” said the third.  (Never mind that the third one hadn’t finished her first breakfast just 10 minutes ago because she claimed to be full.)  And while that was going on, and the anchor weighing, we head the parade guns in the channel just outside the harbor.  At 10AM, the start gun fired!  There was cheering, and horns blasting, and sirens, and excitement flooding over into our little harbor; but we could only hear what we were missing, and never saw any of it.

The parade was only the ceremonial start of the rally, and the official start wasn’t until 11AM.  So, by the time we made our way out of La Playa, we weren’t far behind the fleet, and caught up easily. 

Now of course, Warship 02 chose this exact day and time to head into the channel to San Diego Bay.  So, at the exact moment that 150 sailboats choked the channel into the bay, those same sailboats found themselves scurrying like cockroaches to get out of Giant Warship 02’s way.  The chaos was exacerbated by the fact that the rally starting line was to the east, and required passing the warship starboard-to-starboard.  But, at some point, it was communicated across the radio that the warship requested a port-to-port pass.  The result was that the warship was surrounded by 150 sailing gnats as it tried to make its way into the bay.

With the warship behind us, we could focus on the rally!  Due to the warship confusion, the start was delayed by 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, on the radio, the poobah and his minions discussed allowing a motoring start due to a lack of wind.  By the time of the official start, they still hadn’t decided, so it became a de facto sailing start.  However, the “free motor” conversation – where participants could motor without penalty due to a lack of wind – was a constant radio topic throughout the afternoon.

Which was surprising, because at first, our wind was fabulous, although in the wrong direction.  This time of year (and actually, pretty much all year) the wind off San Diego and the entire Baja peninsula blows from the northwest.  But today, the wind decided to come up out of the southwest, forcing the fleet to sail upwind.  For us, this was our first upwind sail in – well, I’m not sure how long, maybe over a year – but we fared quite well.  The wind started off around 10 knots, and slowly picked up to 12-15 for the first few hours.  As long as we were over 10 knots of wind, Mobert was moving, passing boats left and right.  But then, as it grew later in the day, the wind fell off.  As it did, so did our position in the pack, and we dropped from the front third to right in the middle.  By 6:30 PM, the committee boat gave up and instituted a “free motor” until further notice.  That lasted the entire first leg of the trip, to Bahía Tortugas.

As we began our sail that day, we had another first.  I broke my fishing dry spell when we pulled in two yellowtail, the first one landing less than an hour after the start.  It wasn’t until we crossed the border into Mexico that I had a strong enough data signal to watch a “how to fillet yellowtail” video.  Turns out, it’s pretty much the same as filleting a salmon, except you also remove the “blood line” in the middle of each side fillet, to make a top and bottom fillet on each side.  We ended up with eight decent-looking fillets, and used one of the fillets in our paella dinner.

We had a chronic, yet mild, plague of seasickness most of the day that first day.  The first one to feel sick was Ashton.  He climbed up the companionway to the cockpit, where his dad was, looking pale and tired.  He said his tummy hurt.  Jason gave him some seasickness bands, but after a time, Ashton said they weren’t helping.  So, Jason gave him a Dramamine.  In 20 minutes, his color and energy were back. 

While Ashton was dealing with his seasickness, I was starting to feel sick.  Staying on deck helped, but didn’t eliminate it.  Remembering my experience last time, I paid attention to eat as often as possible, but it wasn’t until after eating two bowls of paella for dinner much later that I started to feel better.  I was careful to eat a full (but not big) meal every two hours, and that mostly kept the seasickness at bay.  Later on, the seas calmed (even more than they already were), and my seasickness ceased.

The girls also had bouts of seasickness throughout the first day, as well as the second.  By the third day, they seemed fine.  When they felt sick, they came up on deck, and soon felt well again.  They stayed in the cockpit most of the day to keep the seasickness at bay.

By the time night fell, the fleet had spread out enough that there was about a mile between boats, so we had some room to breathe.  But, it still made for a much more active watch than any of our watches during our five-day passage down.  The difference between the two passages was striking – the first time, we didn’t see a single light of another boat for days; but this time, there were lights everywhere.  As the night wandered on, we passed some boats, and some boats passed us, and the lights kept moving closer and farther, but always there. 

I took the first watch, and was quite pleased to be joined by Morgan.  She’s been asking to do a night watch for some time, but we hadn’t had a chance.  By about 7:30, she and I were settled into the cockpit in the dark, watching the lights all around us.  Despite all the time we’ve had together as a family on the boat, we rarely have alone time together, and it was so special to just sit together, chatting, in the dark, without distractions.  I can’t wait for our next night watch together.

Especially because she only lasted 30 minutes.  By 8:30, she said she was tired, and headed off to bed.  I continued my watch until Jason came up for his shift at midnight.  He hadn’t done a night watch before, or been on our boat before, so Rich and I had arranged to have one of us in the cockpit with him in case anything came up, and to help him get into the swing of watches.  I mostly slept there in the cockpit from midnight to 1AM, and then we chatted and got snacks over the next hour.  Jason’s shift ended at 4AM, and at 2AM, Rich came up to cockpit sleep while I headed down for bed.  The remainder of the night was uneventful.  One successful day down, two to go.

Baja Fleet on Marine Traffic heading south from San Diego

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