The fleet pulled out of Turtle Bay the morning after the beach party. The sailing conditions couldn’t have been much better. We went a little farther offshore than most of the fleet in order to worry less about collisions. Our goal of the day was to experiment with our Saye’s Rig self-steering system to find a way to set it up in the downwind conditions so that we didn’t need to hand-steer all night. Some of the boats had left the bay early and were concentrating on getting to the next stop as quickly as possible. We wanted to take time and enjoy some of the best sailing conditions we’d seen in a long time.
For some, this leg would be an overnight passage down the coast to Bahia Santa Maria, but for most it would take two nights. We had already burned a lot of fuel since San Diego and wanted to sail as much as possible. But with light winds on the second day giving us only about 3 knots, if that, of speed, we began to worry that we might not make it in two nights and would have to carry over into a third. We didn’t want to miss the planned party. We were also looking ahead to the fuel situation. There is no fuel in Bahia Santa Maria, and we were hoping to avoid buying fuel in Cabo, waiting until we got to La Paz instead. So, tough decision, but getting to the next stop on time took priority. Depending on how things went, we might still be able to avoid refueling in Cabo, where we were told of unreasonable “dockage fees” for tying up to the fuel dock. We started the engine. From our current position, we had to maintain 6 knots and travel a direct course for the next 20 hours in order to get there before sunset on the third day. Once the engine was running and the autopilot on, there was not much for us to do except watch out for those we were passing who were determined to actually sail the entire way.
We arrived in the bay about 3 PM Monday. The main scheduled event was a beach party the next day, to be held at the base of the second mountain in the distance (above). Monday evening, Robyn got together with her friends for a movie night on “Waponi Woo.” Joe, on our buddy boat, “Slainte,” received a broadcast of the Seahawks’ Monday Night Football game on his Sirius satellite radio and kept all of the boats from the Seattle area up to date with the game details over the fleet’s VHF channel. It turns out that a lot of the Ha-Ha fleet are NOT Seahawks fans.
On Tuesday we had a party at the base of a mountain in a desert next to the bright blue sea. A live band played classic rock tunes. The band drove 100 miles on beaches and primitive dusty roads to get to this place, which has no plumbing or electricity and only man-made shade, just to entertain us.
The surreal aspect of the Baja Ha-Ha rally continued the next morning at daybreak when an announcement was made over the VHF radio of the election results, followed by the words, “This is not a joke.”
Everyone raised their anchors and the entire fleet departed the bay, heading for Cabo San Lucas. The bay was quickly emptied of boats, the pangas went home to their normal place of work, the band drove the 100 miles back to their homes, and the small population of Bahia Santa Maria went back to their normal lives. If the experience was somewhat bizarre for us, you have to wonder what it was like for the people of the bay.
With very little wind, most boats motored most of the way to Cabo San Lucas. Fuel was also an issue for some, if not all. We ran more slowly than we could have to conserve diesel, arriving at Cabo on Thursday afternoon, November 10th.
After a quick swim off the boat, everyone went to Squid Roe to celebrate having “cheated death” and making it the entire 745 mile distance from one end of Baja to the other. The party at the club was in obvious contrast to the party at the base of the mountain. The bright lights, thumping dance music, and flashing video screens of the street, not to mention inside the club itself, was surreal in itself after all we’d been through to get here.
So, we didn’t know what to expect from the Baja Ha-Ha before it started, but what we got out of it was an unexpected experience which could best be broken into four distinctly different parties (what’s a party, but people with a common interest getting together). From a party in a retail store parking lot in a city that displays American military power as well as any; to a town so small, and so proud of their little league teams and the field they have built for them; to a place with a tiny population that ekes a living out of the sea while living in wooden shacks in a treeless desert without normal conveniences; to a city thriving off of the excesses of American tourists getting wild. Throw in the most bizarre national election in my lifetime, and the “Baja Ha-Ha” has become a very memorable segment of this entire journey.
As the DJ in the club Squid Roe announced, “Glad you guys made it before the wall went up!”
We didn’t really know what to expect when we signed up for the Baja Ha-Ha last May. We didn’t get a lot of information about it after we signed up, either. There were seminars and meetings as the date got closer, but these were put on by sponsors and seemed more like opportunities to sell something to us rather than specific details about the trip itself.
The first official event where we learned much of any detail was a kickoff party held the day before the Ha-Ha start. It was held in a West Marine parking lot in San Diego. That presented its own opportunity to spend more money, and so we did. That it was held the day before the start was a little annoying since that’s when people were making last minute preparations, buying food and returning rental cars. Due to our shared rental car needing to be returned by 4 PM, we had to leave the party early.
Out of 180 boats entered in the Baja Ha-Ha rally, 150 actually started at the same time from San Diego on Monday morning, October 31st. Local television news stations took footage of the parade of boats leaving San Diego while fire boats (well, technically, police boats with a single fire pump) sprayed water into the air. Everybody put up at least one sail so it would look cool for the video, but there wasn’t any wind.
The wind picked up later in the day. It was really nice sailing for a while. We even had all four of our sails up at the same time, something we rarely have the opportunity to do.
Things started going downhill as soon as the sun went down. The winds had picked up a little too much, as had the seas. We reefed both the main and the mizzen, and furled the staysail. We sailed off into the darkness with plenty of stars, but no moon. It quickly became eerily similar to the first night out from Cape Flattery: invisible swells, seemingly coming from different directions and slamming us in the middle with all their force. By this time, two thirds of our crew was in less than perfect condition. Rolling from side-to-side with no visible horizon, with violent pitching and yawing thrown in, will pretty much get to me every time. You’d think we would’ve learned the first time, but no, we still had gear and supplies dumping out onto the floor and sliding around the cabin.
The Tuesday morning weather report indicated that the conditions were not going to improve until Wednesday. Although I was beginning to feel better and function more, Julie, who had hand-steered through most of Monday night, was exhausted, and could not do it for a second night in a row. Later in the day, to go easier on ourselves, we decided to start up the engine, haul in the sails, and power through the deteriorating sea conditions. It proved to be the right choice.
Tuesday night was rougher still. We don’t think we were rolled as far or as violently as we had been coming out of Cape Flattery, but we don’t really know because our tilt gauge broke when something crashed into it. Three out of our four sails became unusable because the halyards or jib sheets were so badly wrapped around and tangled. We could not do anything about them until everything calmed down. Our auto-pilot, unable to handle the big seas at times, would go into FAIL mode and we’d have to quickly grab the wheel and retain control before things literally went sideways.
Sure, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. The Ha-Ha fleet was using VHF channel 69 for communications with each other. Everyone monitored it continuously. It was the fleet’s communication line, but with the boats spread out by a hundred miles or so, not everyone could hear every conversation. One of the first reported problems during the night was a failed boom vang (a rigging device used to help hold down and control a boom) on “Jersey Girl.” The failure of the vang damaged their boom. They reported at first that they were going to head into Ensenada for repairs, but then continued sailing instead. Then reports of more problems on more boats started coming in. One boat broke its boom in half; another broke its tiller and had to rig up emergency steering. We heard of breaking whisker poles (used to hold sails out, away from the boat), electrical problems, dead engines, blown out sails, and even an onboard fire in one boat. But the worst event of the night began with a mayday call and continued with the ensuing radio traffic, all during the pre-dawn hours. Imagine trying to maintain control of your boat in storm-like conditions, well after midnight, in complete darkness, while boats all around you are suffering damage and breakdowns; and getting bits and pieces of radio traffic, much of it from “Jersey Girl,” who acted very professionally as the fleet’s apparent rescue coordinator, concerning flares, life jackets and signaling devices. It can be a lot for tired brains to hear and process.
When the sun finally came up, and the fleet was tied together with the once-per-day long-range SSB radio roll call, it was learned that the mayday had come from the Ha-Ha boat, “Summerwind,” a Newport 41 from San Diego. They had run up on some rocks and the boat was destroyed. All crew was safely recovered and taken to a hospital to be checked out. “Jersey Girl” had looked for the beached boat during the night but couldn’t find it. They went back at daybreak and found it dismasted and breaking apart in the surf. The rest of us could only imagine what the crew must’ve gone through.
We arrived at the entrance to Turtle Bay, the approximate halfway point down Baja, late on Wednesday night but decided against trying to enter the bay in the dark. We hung out, floating around in the ocean, until daylight. “Slainte,” who had been ahead of us since the start, had run into a little trouble of their own and had decided to anchor for the night in a suitable spot north of Turtle Bay. They saw us on their AIS and hailed us on the radio as we passed by. Joe remarked that this was supposed to be fun. Earlier, the voice of “Jersey Girl” had similarly commented that there hadn’t been much “ha-ha” in the Ha-Ha yet.
The next morning we entered the bay as the sun came over the horizon. We were in Mexico now. We didn’t n eed to unpack our dinghy to get to shore because almost before our anchor was set, men, and sometimes boys, in fishing pangas came by offering taxi service, garbage collection and just about anything else that could be worked out.
The must-attend event of the day was a baseball game between the boat crews and the local little league teams. It was held on the town’s very nice ball field. Robyn and I closely examined the grass on the field, but still couldn’t tell if it was real or fake. It was about the only thing green around. Even the roads in town were dirt.
On Friday, the main event of the day was a beach party a couple of miles south of town. Some people re-anchored their boats closer and landed on the beach in their dinghies, kayaks, paddle boards, or whatever. We took the easy route and hailed a passing panga.
Before we started this trip, when Robyn asked what to expect, we had promised her that she would have experiences that she, and we, could not imagine ahead of time. When we got back to our boat and settled in for the evening, Robyn remarked that things were becoming surreal.
When we sailed into San Diego Bay we needed a specific destination. That pre-decided destination was Glorietta Bay, which is a designated anchoring area for boats participating in the Baja Ha Ha, the annual cruising rally to Cabo San Lucas. The anchorage area, designated by the San Diego anchorage designation authorities (there must be such a group) as A-5, would allow Ha Ha boats to stay for the entire month of October, rather than the normal 72 hours. We had prearranged to meet another rally boat there that also had an 18-year old onboard, so we raised our Baja Ha Ha flag and headed for Glorietta Bay.
Just as when we noticed the birds in Half Moon Bay and the sea lions in Monterey, we immediately noticed the military helicopters in San Diego. Unlike the birds and sea lions, they did not have a strong odor, but they were loud, low and there were lots of them. So loud at times it was difficult to talk. We suspect they are from the Marine Corps Air Station at Camp Pendleton, doing routine training, but we could be wrong.
Glorietta Bay is a little appendage off the main part of San Diego Bay at Coronado. We found the other boat we were looking for, but being a Friday evening, we also found the anchoring area crowded with weekend boats all a little too close together for comfort. On Saturday the wind came up, and we watched one unattended boat drag anchor and drift through the middle of the pack, narrowly missing several others until the harbor police, and eventually the boat’s owner, showed up.
Other than a place to hang out for a while, Glorietta Bay offered practically nothing on shore for us, not even a place to leave the dinghy for the day or anywhere to replenish our fresh water supply. We didn’t really mind the playing of Reveille and Taps over loudspeakers at the nearby Naval Amphibious Base, but it was clear that staying there for two weeks anchored out wasn’t going to work for us.
It didn’t take long to find a marina with available guest slips, and on Monday morning we moved the boat farther south to a marina in Chula Vista. There we found everything we could possibly need, from friendly people and clean, bright docks and sidewalks with night-time floodlight-lit palm trees (always makes me feel like I’m on vacation), to a West Marine store a few blocks away, and a shopping mall a few more blocks beyond that. We even found a Mexican money exchange inside the Costco store.
Although Glorietta Bay was free, and a couple weeks in the marina is a bigger hit to the credit card than we planned, the marina was far more practical for everything we had left to do. We immediately had our mail sent there, and ordered everything we knew we’d need soon, rather than trying to find it all in Mexico.
On Tuesday, Slainte arrived from a stop in Catalina after figuring out their engine problem in Santa Barbara. Joe and Cathy rented a car for the rest of the month, which we shared with them and split the cost. It was nice being able to make Costco runs and get everything loaded onto the boat directly from the dock rather than having to ferry it all in the dinghy like we did in Half Moon Bay.
We haven’t had any time for sightseeing because we have so much to do still. We’ve received our temporary import permit for the boat, got Mexican fishing licenses (a requirement for each person onboard), bought a Mexican liability insurance policy (also a requirement), bought a SIM card for our boat/house phone so it will work in Mexico, and then promptly dropped and broke the phone (that’s what, maybe item number 26 of the lost and broken?). We did manage to see a couple movies at a theater in the mall. We don’t get to do that as a family very often.
Our big purchase, and another big project to complete (a never-ending list), is a reverse osmosis water maker. It took us a long time to choose which one we wanted, and to figure out how to power it. It’s also going to take a while to get it installed, but it will be a certain necessity once we’re into the Sea of Cortez—and later if we do any long ocean crossings.
We bought the 30 GPH model from Cruise RO Water in Escondido. We had almost bought the one they had for demo at the Seattle Boat Show two years ago, so we’ve been looking at this model for some time. The water maker will (think positive) force filtered seawater at high pressure through membranes which block the salt in order to obtain pure water. Sounds simple, but the actual system has a lot of parts, pumps, valves, gauges and somewhat complex operating and maintenance procedures. That sustained “high pressure” is the hard part, and the membranes are delicate and expensive. It took the first day and a half of reading the manual and looking at the parts just to decide that we were missing the breather cap for the high pressure pump. We won’t have the system installed before we leave here, but we are scrambling to figure out how best to make it all fit and tie in with the existing electrical and plumbing systems. We think it might be easier to buy hardware here than try to shop for it in Mexico.
As for being here in San Diego, we’ve had some of the most summer-like weather we’ve seen all year. We’ve also seen the most rain since we left Puget Sound, but that isn’t saying much. I don’t think it’s rained enough to make the ground completely wet yet. It cools off at night, but otherwise it is shorts and T-shirts weather.
The strangest thing has been a weird crackling noise in the boat, especially at night. It sounded like it was coming from up in the bow, where the holding tank is and we store so many things, but we also heard it equally as loud in the stern. It sounded like electrical sparks, or maybe dripping water—but random, with no pattern. It was enough to nearly drive me nuts. I finally asked people who live on other boats in the marina if they heard it too. They laughed. One person said it was shrimp, and another said crabs; the sounds they make travel through the water and are easily heard through the boat hull. They told stories of people nearly ripping boats apart trying to find the source of the noise. I don’t care what kind of creature is making the sound, or why. I’m just good with being able to sleep at night.
And of course, one more thing failed this week. In the process of fixing the light inside the compass so we can see our heading at night, suddenly the transparent dome popped off and all the fluid gushed out. I have had that compass—the main binnacle compass on the steering pedestal—out of there many times in the past without a problem. It even spent last winter sitting on a shelf. I knew that one of the two very dim LED’s inside the rim was not working, which makes it difficult for our aging eyes to maintain the desired heading at night. I spent a big chunk of the day making up a replacement light from a strip of three red LED’s, including a whole new cable and connector assembly to replace the 22-year old corroded original, and was just reinstalling the compass when the dome fell off. Once my shock and frustration subsided, I decided that I probably had taken out too many screws. In the meantime, Julie located some “Ritchie Compass Oil” in stock at the downtown San Diego West Marine store. I found the fill plug you take out of the compass to pour the oil back in. You learn new stuff everyday.
Fixing the compass light removes one old item from the project list, but losing the compass fluid adds a new one (#27) to the lost and broken list.
The rally leaves on Monday, the 31st. The next post will be from somewhere in Mexico.
Although we were comfortable in Half Moon Bay and our routines had become, well—routine, all things must eventually end. It was time to move on if we wanted to make it to San Diego on schedule.
It felt a little as if we’d overstayed our welcome. Maybe it was just my imagination, but I sensed we were starting to get in people’s way; taking up space and using resources, but paying little for the privilege. Or maybe we were okay to stay anchored there forever for free and it was us who were getting tired of the place. The smell from the bird rocks, the flies, the incessant blasting of the horn signal that marks the entrance to the harbor, and the same old weather pattern of cool and cloudy mornings followed by gusty winds all afternoon, day after day. Every time we brought up the anchor it seemed to also pull up fifty pounds of sticky, glue-like mud that obviously stuck better to the anchor than to the bottom of the bay. Since it only rained once, so lightly that nothing really got wet, the boat was covered in dust and dirt. We were chastised for using the water hose at the pumpout dock for rinsing the deck. Perhaps it was considered a non-essential use during a drought?
Whatever the reason, we were ready to leave. But first, our buddy boat, Slainte, was having some electrical issues with their solar charging system and had replacement parts on order. As soon as the parts came in, we planned to leave. On October 6th, we were off, but with a late start. The last time we raised the anchor was the worst. It not only came up with the most mud ever, but embedded in the mud were shellfish and other sea life.
Once back out in the ocean, it didn’t take long to re-learn what we had somehow forgotten: what happens to things left unsecured in a rolling boat. We had wanted to go to Monterey for the night, but with the late start, only made it to Santa Cruz, at the north end of Monterey Bay.
Once around the corner of the bay and sheltered somewhat from the northerly swells, we anchored off the beach at Santa Cruz. We didn’t attempt to go into shore because the sun was setting and the dinghy was packed away, but it looked interesting. The rides were not operating. It was nice being underway again, but being able to stop and sleep a full night was a real bonus. At least that was the idea. It turned out to be quite a rolly night. The continuous rolling made it almost impossible to sleep, and I kept getting up to make sure we were still anchored where we thought and not washing up on the beach.
Joe tried to spend the evening fixing the electrical problems but couldn’t do it with so much boat motion. We decided to go on to Monterey in the morning, get into the marina there, and do the repairs while tied to a dock.
We ended up staying in the marina in Monterey for three nights. It was the first marina we had been in since we left Seattle. We were able to get a reservation over the phone without any problem, but finding the correct slip once we arrived was a big problem. No numbers or signs are visible from the water. We ended up taking the wrong slip. We would’ve gone up to the office to verify and check in if it didn’t require a dock key to get out through the gate. Someone came down onto the dock about an hour later, told us we had to move, helped us tie up in the correct slip, showed us where the tiny little dock numbers were located—only visible to people already on the dock, and then gave us our dock key.
To go from wide open space to a crowded marina with boats tied and moored everywhere, and flotillas of kayaks and stand up paddle boards apparently thinking that they can do whatever they want without getting run over by a 46,000 pound boat that does not stop or turn quickly, was more stressful than we were ready for. The 70-foot slip they gave us had only 50 Amp power available. Our shore power cord only fits a 30 Amp socket. We wanted to use the sewing machine and so needed power. We searched our box of adapters, but only had 20 to 30 Amp adapters, not 30 to 50. Fortunately, the boat yard had adapters to loan out for a $195.00 deposit. It all worked out eventually, the stress and frustration went away, Joe fixed his electrical problem, and we had a good time in Monterey.
If Half Moon Bay has the birds, Monterey has the sea lions. If Half Moon Bay has an incessantly blaring horn, Monterey has incessantly barking sea lions. If the bird poop all over the rocks in Half Moon Bay stinks, well…
The Cannery Row area of Monterey is pretty much all John Steinbeck, all the time, except for the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Well, now that I think about it, there’s a lot of Steinbeck in there as well, including a whole section on Baja and the Sea of Cortez. The aquarium is very nice, but expensive and crowded.
At the other end of the waterfront from Cannery Row is Fisherman’s Warf. It seems less of John Steinbeck, but no less touristy.
Our weekend in Monterey was a nice diversion, but Slainte’s electrical problem was fixed. We left on Monday to go in search of Southern California, rumored to begin on the south side of Point Conception, where the coastline turns sharply eastward, the ocean swells lessen, and the weather south of there is always delightful (or so we’ve heard).
Unfortunately, during the first night of cruising down the coast from Monterey, Slainte developed engine trouble. We stopped in the middle of the night for Joe to check things over. Slainte’s engine was consuming crankcase oil. This was a strange experience. After hours of following the little point of white light which was Slainte’s stern light, we were now two boats literally bobbing in a sea of blackness, the only outside visual reference being each other’s running lights. I found it easy to freak out a little by the odd spatial orientation, and was happy to start moving again.
By the end of the next day, after a few more stops to add more oil, we anchored for the night so Joe could do more troubleshooting. On the south side of Point Conception, behind Government Point, is small, protected Cojo Anchorage. It makes a good shelter to wait out the weather when going northbound around Point Conception, which is notorious for rough conditions. As we were setting the anchor uncomfortably close to the surf breaking on the beach, we were startled by the southbound “Coast Starlight” Amtrak train going by on top of a low bluff directly above the beach. A few minutes later, the northbound train went by as well. Once this trip is over we might have to try a trip on that.
The outlook for Slainte was not good. Joe, a diesel mechanic, needed time to remove the transmission, possibly order parts and make repairs. He decided to head for Santa Barbara and try to get a slip at the marina there until the issue could be brought under control.
When we arrived at Santa Barbara the marina was a zoo. Slainte made it through the narrow entrance channel, tied up to the Harbormaster dock, and made a case for an emergency need for a slip for a few days. There was one available that they could fit into. We entered the channel a few minutes later, only to be faced by boats sailing out for an evening race, and a string of launches ferrying passengers out to a cruise ship, not to mention the now expected flotilla of kayaks, stand up paddle boards and dinghies. These last take low priority behind right-of-way-demanding sailboats and cruise ship landing craft jammed to the max with uncomfortable-looking passengers, especially when we have to look into a low setting sun. The flotilla may or may not have actually been there, we couldn’t really see them anyway.
Joe texted us that no more slips were available, and even the fuel dock was jammed up. We didn’t want to get into a jam so we turned around to go back out, which was a lot like trying to do a U-turn on a narrow road, blocking traffic in both directions.
Once again, we went out to the anchoring area off the beach and looked at the shore from a distance.
So, with Slainte stuck in Santa Barbara for a while, and us planning to meet a family with another 18-year old in San Diego on Sunday, it was decided that we would go on ahead, meeting up with Slainte again when they got to San Diego. In the morning we raised the anchor and continued along the coast, past Ventura and Point Mugu, and then angled out, passing Los Angeles and Long Beach offshore, and aiming for San Diego. Winds were light and variable, so we droned on uneventfully for two days. Whale sightings and dolphins have become a common occurrence, but one thing not expected was the lack of other marine traffic. Although we paralleled the shipping lanes for most of the night, we were virtually alone.
As we approached San Diego we noticed two things happening with the VHF radio on channel 16. “Warships” (formerly known as Navy vessels?) were maneuvering and announcing their intentions to all other vessels; and many of the other radio conversations were entirely in Spanish. Even though when sailing in Puget Sound we frequently encounter transiting nuclear submarines and their escorts, I had never heard so much military use of the marine VHF radio, especially between other military ships and helicopters; and conversations seemingly directed at each other, rather than directly at a particular civilian boat. On the other hand, the Spanish conversations, when we thought about it, made perfect sense since we could literally see Mexico in the distance. It just hadn’t sunk in yet that we were so far south.
So, we made it. Pretty much the entire west coast of the continental United States, from Cape Flattery to Point Loma, has passed by on the port side of our little sailing ship.
Seattle to San Diego: 1,250 nautical miles at sea.
Running total of items broken, lost or in need of repair: 25.
We declared it was time to start cruising in the last post. We had dropped anchor late at night next to our buddy boat, Slainte, on the Port Townsend waterfront. After a couple days there, we moved on, first with two nights anchored inside the Port Angeles harbor, then with one final night in the calm safety of Neah Bay, on the far northwest corner of the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State.
The next several days varied from excitement and disbelief that we actually were doing this, to three days of testing our ability to continue to function after very little sleep and the exhaustion of needing to hand steer the boat, 24 hours a day, in rough seas and 20 to 30 knot winds; to hours upon hours of running the engine along a gloomy, gray, nearly windless Northern California coast.
This is the lighthouse at Point Wilson, in Port Townsend. It marks the first of two left turns that take you from the protected waters of Puget Sound, to the far side of the Olympic Mountains (in the background, with snow patches), to sailing southbound in the Pacific Ocean.
We stuck with our buddy boat, s/v Slainte, almost all the way to Port Angeles. We’re motoring beneath Obstruction Ridge (background), in the Olympic National Park. Not long after this photo was taken, our engine alarm panel lit up with an over-temperature warning. This happens sometimes when we push the engine too hard, and backing off the throttle will clear the alarm. Unfortunately, that didn’t solve the problem this time. Only cleaning the raw water intake strainer, followed by a complete remove and replace operation of the burned up pump impeller, done in a rolling and bouncing engine room while Julie and Robyn got a couple sails up to keep the boat in control, solved the problem. We caught up with Slainte in the Port Angeles harbor.
At least one of us might’ve liked to spend a couple nights in the marina behind the wall, but it was not to happen. We anchored in the harbor for two days, organizing the boat. Port Angeles, with the city wedged on a hillside between the sea and mountains, has always been one of my favorite places. Mount Angeles is in the background.
We wanted the moon to light our way all the way to San Francisco, but we were about a week late in getting everything wrapped up at home. We did take advantage of the full moon, however, rising here over Port Angeles, to get us to Neah Bay. We made a 3 AM departure, both for favorable tides, and to get out of the harbor before any morning fog formed, which had been heavy in recent days. Of course, half a night’s sleep eventually added additional cumulative sleep deprivation in the coming days.
Anchored close nearby, we spent one last night in calm, protected water behind the Neah Bay breakwater. We managed to top off our fuel and water tanks, but not much else was possible in the little fishing village. Our dinghy was already packed and stowed away for the ocean. The weather options looked like we could either start out rough at this end, and maybe beat forecasted bad weather in California the following week, or wait for most favorable conditions here, and get the bad weather on the other end. We opted to go for it now, and get the bad weather over with early. We planned for an 8 AM departure.
Little did we know at the time that we would get separated from Slainte by more than two days, and approximately two hundred miles. With no cell phone coverage, and well out of normal marine VHF radio range, we were only able to make contact again, to let them know how far behind them we were, by using ham radio to relay a message via the Pacific Seafarer’s Net through a ham radio operator in Hawaii. At the radio frequencies involved, 200 miles is too far for marine VHF, but was too close for HF ham radio. The HF signal will bounce off the ionosphere and travel thousands of miles across the ocean, but skip over closer receivers. It was my first ever ham radio voice call, but, luckily, successful. I even rattled off the phonetic spelling of Mysticeti like a pro, I think. We would eventually catch up to Slainte in Half Moon Bay.
This is the end of the Earth in the Pacific Northwest. Cape Flattery is to the left, with Tatoosh Island, lighthouse and associated rocks to the right. Even in the photo, you can see the ocean swells.
We are actually sailing on the actual ocean! Cape Flattery is at the base of the hill, with Tatoosh Island to its left. We’ve made the second of the two left turns and are headed south.
What happened over the next 48 hours I have no pictures to illustrate because I only have two hands and I needed them both for other purposes, such as steering the boat and hanging on during violent rolling, pitching and yawing. Let’s just say that a 10 to 20 degree roll of the hull is normal sailing, but a sudden 30 degree roll will knock things that aren’t bolted or strapped down onto the floor; and repeated sudden 40 degree violent rolls will empty closed cabinets that aren’t latched tightly enough. Fun.
With 20 to 35 knot winds and heavy seas, we could not get our Saye’s Rig self-steering system, (nicknamed Isaac) consisting of a small wedge-shaped sail and a long shaft extending to a trim tab attached to the rudder, to balance out in the narrow downwind range of wind direction, following seas and desired direction of travel. We were forced to hand steer 24 hours per day. This was very fatiguing, and we could not keep up the pace, even when trading off every 30 minutes. Heaving-to (slowing the boat to a near stop) a couple of times during the night, so we could get some meaningful sleep, seemed to be our only option.
Having heard many horror stories about Cape Mendocino, we wanted to pass it fairly far offshore. But once we found ourselves in 30 knots and rough seas again, with more benign weather forecasts close-in toward shore, we changed course to get us in to ten or twelve miles, rather than fifty to sixty. However, that eventually resulted in almost zero wind. From too much to too little. We finally rationalized that just because we were on a sailing trip, there was no reason we had to actually sail the whole time. So, engine on it was. With our hydraulic Simrad autopilot (tentatively nicknamed Sinbad) on the job, we could take watches acting more as systems monitors, rather than active boat wrestlers, and drone on toward San Francisco.
With sunglasses at the ready, Julie naps in the cockpit, perhaps dreaming of a warm and sunny California. Wait…this is California.
Having a nearly completely enclosed and protected cockpit, we slept up there, taking turns. If we sat in the right spot we could see everything we needed to see, including the AIS display (small, pale blue screen visible at the nav station inside), which is an invaluable tool when dodging ships at night. It gives the ship’s name and call sign, relative position, speed, direction, bearing, calculated closest point of approach and time of closest point of approach. Likewise, they can get the same information about us. However, we went for two days without seeing another vessel, visually, or on the AIS.
We picked up a hitch hiker somewhere off Point Arena, CA. How he got that far out, we don’t know. We have different opinions on this, but I tend to think he was blown out there and needed a rest, maybe hoping for a lift back to shore.
This is one of the Farallon Islands off of San Francisco. These are the kinds of things you plan carefully to avoid running into at night, when they are impossible to see visually.
We spent our last day navigating around the Farallons, crossing the inbound and outbound shipping lanes, watching whales spout, and getting to Half Moon Bay, the ear-shaped cutout from the land at lower right.
Anchored once again near Slainte, inside the breakwater at Half Moon Bay, CA.
Tracking: We did try out our Spot tracker. We’ve created a “share page” for this blog, but do not have it working yet. In the meantime, this link will show our last position: http://fms.ws/ae_SS/37.49839n/122.48807w. It should update each time we move.
If we are within range of an AIS receiving station linked to the internet, you can also see our current position at www.marinetraffic.com. Search for Mysticeti.
For our memorable little friend, hope you made it safely back to shore.