April 28, 2015 – It begins (sort of). Today the Grand Poobah posted the Notice of Rally on the Baja Haha web site. Sign up starts May 1 and you should sign up as quickly as you can as slip assignments in Cabo are based on the order in which you sign up. The paperwork is daunting. The application, the crew list, the skipper waiver, the crew waiver, the TIP, the tourist Visas, the Mexican fishing licenses.
We did our first Haha in 2013 on Coyote, our Jeanneau 42DS. Although I had sailed as crew long distances and had done a number of overnight races on Coyote, this was our first long distance sail. The Haha is comprised of three legs. The first of 360 miles stops at Turtle Bay. When we arrived around three in the morning we kicked back and relaxed and only realized later that we never left the boat the first thirty six hours there. Drinking, talking, BBQ, drinking and reading filled the time. The second leg is 240 miles to Bahia Santa Maria. The third leg 180 miles to Cabo San Lucas.
Boats fell into four categories – Good sailors and bad sailors, experienced offshore sailors and rookies. At the start some boats were sailing perpendicular to the rum line to get up to speed. Others did perfect spinnaker sets. At Turtle Bay one sailor had a spare engine head and head gasket for someone else who was having trouble. One skipper had lost a shackle and had no spares nor knew what a shackle was. Of the 120 or so boats all arrived safely in Cabo. Two medical emergencies as far as I knew. One lady tripped over a power cord in Cabo and did a face plant. The other, reason unknown, was offloaded by the Mexican Navy and transported to the hospital, but returned for the next leg.
I made a number of modifications in anticipation of the 2013 trip. I added a bowsprit to get the asymmetrical spinnaker further out – a great addition. I increased the size of the anchor and added chain (but not enough – this time all chain). We added an EPIRB and liferaft. Water was a precious commodity going south and fuel an issue for the return. For Matador, we added a watermaker and the boat has 216 gallons of fuel – enough to motor nonstop from Cabo to San Diego at full cruising RPM – a range much better than many trawlers.
Still, I am excited and nervous. I assume I will take delivery of Matador by mid June. That gives just over four months to prepare, practice and repair.
May 1, 2015 – Sign up started at noon. I was online in a flash. Ended up 8th!? This year I filled in information for four crew (including myself). I bet the others cheated. Anyway, I’m sure we won’t have any problem getting a slip in Cabo. We will arrive on a Thursday and depart for La Paz on Monday. Don’t really even need a slip, but the anchorage can be a bit rocky.
September 11, 2015 – I have been on the boat every weekend since June except for the weekend my son got married in Maryland. The boat is at Coral Marina in Ensenada and it has been a wonderful experience. I have been sailing with various crew and we have gotten to know the boat well. Still, we are no way ready for the Haha. I will be bringing the boat to San Diego in October for some warranty and maintenance work and then take off for Cabo with the Haha on the 26th. The MOM is at the Switlik service center being repacked. I brought the dinghy home to inflate it. The dinghy looked like hell and the electric air pump burned up. Sure glad we tried it before arriving at Turtle Bay. Got a new air pump and ordered another dinghy. The prior one was a Mercury and lasted a number of years and was excellent. It had an air floor that was very solid. We powered it with a five horse mercury. Most people say you want lots of power so you can plane. I never plane so that doesn’t matter to me. In fact, weight is the biggest issue. I often cruise short handed and don’t want davits. We went with a Zodiac that at 10’2″ is 4 inches shorter than our Mercury, but the tubes are 17″ instead of 16″. Still an air floor it comes in 17 pounds lighter. Last year I got the lightest air floor I could get (I think just over 8′). It was too small and not really good for even one person. I am also going with a Honda 2.3 hp that is extremely light. Those who cruise Baja know that you can anchor a long way away from where you need to go, but I found I seldom used the whole 5 horsepower from my Mercury. We’ll see.
Heading back to Ensenada this afternoon. Tomorrow is a big maintenance day. I’ve had the boat just over three months now so all the quarterly maintenance items need to be done. Beneteau has a really neat maintenance system on line. My list is more complete, but theirs is very useful. My list has about 50 items in about 10 categories and if I can stay on top of the list, the boat should be in strong shape.
Below is a typical dinner when I’m by myself lately. Also, a typical view of the Coral Marina
September 16, 2015 – The entry to the Haha closed yesterday with 134 entries which is the fewest since 2002. Not quite sure why. One theory is the El Nino, but that effect is only as far south as Turtle Bay our first stop. El Nino experts say a slight increased chance of hurricane.
Here are some stats:
- 70 feet – the longest boat
- 27 feet – the shortest boat
- 41 feet – the median size boat
- 10 boats bigger than Matador
- 114 boats smaller than Matador
- 10 fifty footers.
October 8, 2015 – Thursday morning broke clear and sunny. Jack, Brett and I left Ensenada for San Diego. You must first clear out of Mexico. I counted seven different people I had to deal with. Marina office, Immigration, Bank, Port Captain (twice) and the Health Inspection office. Don’t know how people do it without marina help. It was an uneventful eight hour trip under power in light headwinds. Wind never exceed 12 knots which is 20 apparent on your nose. The dodger and bimini broke the wind nicely. We passed a whale going north (what is it thinking?) and a pod of jumping dolphins. There were three million lobster pots we had to dodge in Ensenada harbor, but all in all a lovely trip. At the Immigration and Custom dock on Shelter Island we had to wait for agents to come over from the airport. We had signed up for the Small Vessel Reporting System (SVRS) which is intended to allow you to clear in by phone and avoid the hassle for both you and the agents of going to Shelter Island. It had been more than two months since we applied and we had heard nothing. It turns out one of the customs officials said he used to run the program in San Diego, but the new guy had no interest in it and so wasn’t processing applications anymore. Go figure.
We are now at Sunroad Marina for the next couple weeks in preparation for the Baja Haha for some warranty and maintenance work then off for the Sea of Cortez for the winter.
October 16, 2015 – Just more than a week to go. People say to get involved in a rally so that you have a fixed time to depart. I understand better now. The boat is in San Diego in preparation of the October 26 departure. So far I have been in contact with the insurance company, the bottom cleaner, the dealer for some warranty work, the water maker store for a repair, the engine guy for the 50 hour check, the boat waxer and varnisher. Imagine if I did it myself!
October 26, 2015 – The start off of Point Loma was in light winds from abeam. Jack, Andrew, Geoff and I had the sails moving us at almost 5 knots among a fleet of about 110 other boats. The temperature was very warm for late October and the sky was clear. The winds built to 12 knots by three in the afternoon and we were sailing 7-9 knots under our asymmetrical spinnaker. As we would learn throughout the rally Matador is very quick in these conditions. By sundown the entire fleet was behind us. The wind died shortly after sunset and we proceeded under iron spinnaker until about ten at night. Some die hards would sail the entire leg.
The Baja Haha for us starts months before in preparation and you really know you are ready – and perhaps much of the fleet is not – at the party the day before the start. The skippers meeting on the 25th allowed me to meet some of my fellow passage makers. There was the skipper who had a new old boat; had never sailed at night; and his wife who had never steered before. Thankfully they had hired a professional skipper who, upon reading the sailing resume of the couple, insisted on another experienced crew. There was the nice couple in line for food who were doing their second Haha on their Island Packet 35. The last one was five years ago. From Cabo they elected to sail around the world. The experience level varied just a bit!
Day 2 early had fickle winds and some fog. We caught a small Dorado and let it go. We motored until noon. The wind built throughout the day and by early afternoon we were touching 10 plus knots under spinnaker. A couple hours after sundown we retrieved the spinnaker. No issues in the dark – but remember, this is some 2,000 square feet of sail. We motored through the night and arrived Wednesday morning at 0800. We had motored more than we would have liked, but had enjoyed a fast passage. Under both motor and sail we averaged 8 knots! In 2013 on Coyote we arrived Thursday morning at 0400 – almost a full day behind.
October 28, 2015 – At anchor in Turtle Bay. Each morning starts with a roll call. First, medical emergencies, then mechanical emergencies, then roll call. There are always a couple boats who love their radio and insist on transmitting all morning long on one subject or another. Turtle Bay, our first stop, is when you get a very visible sign of the lack of preparedness of some boats. “How do you anchor, over”; “Watermaker/SSB radio etc that I had installed in San Diego and don’t know how to use it. Can someone help?”; “I’m low on fuel/water, can someone help” (they are both available in Turtle Bay). We had three full nights in Turtle Bay and boats trickled in for the next day and a half. The town is ugly, but the people friendly. The water was mid seventies so lots of swimming. We dumped the dinghy on one landing (pilot error) and I pulled a hamstring which bothered me the rest of the way through the trip. A very nice party on the beach. Generally being lazy.
October 31, 2015 – Anchor up at 0800 in preparation for a sleepy 0900 start. Its a rally and not a race so you get to the start when you get there. We had a “rolling start” which means you can motor due to lack of wind. For some reason we had 11 knots of wind so we set our chute and were off at 7 knots. Now, under a rolling start you are supposed to motor at 5 knots. Because we were sailing at 7 knots should we be penalized? I think not! Just before one we landed a 25 to 30 pound tuna. It was to provide the best sashimi ever and fish tacos for the crew. The wind continued to build and by mid afternoon we hit 12.2 knots with water temperature finally reaching 80 degrees. We flew the spinnaker in winds approaching 25 knots until about midnight when we decided to chicken out. Unfortunately we had “two blocked” the chute jamming the spinnaker block with the block at the top of the mast – it wouldn’t come down. We hung three of us on the turtled chute and it would not budge. No worries. Let’s refill the shoot. At 2,000 feet in 25 knots of wind there was plenty of pressure to help us lower it. No problem. We finished the 242 mile leg in almost exactly 30 hours – a second leg averaging 8 knots. Most of this leg under sail.
November 2, 2015 At Bahia Santa Maria, a beautiful, but uninhabited bay, we spent most of the day providing assistance. One cruiser had grabbed his wife’s passport and needed help getting his – mission accomplished. Another lady flagged us down who needed desperately to get off her ship from hell and we delivered her elsewhere. Andrew flew the drone around a vessel with an incredible three generation crew that is responsible for our spinnaker shot and we dutifully watched without hoots or howls a young couple having sex on the boat immediately behind us on the foredeck. Andrew and Geoff dinghied over to the Poobahs boat for cocktails where everyone stayed in their dinghy and enjoyed the company of 100 other dinghies and some live music. Jack and I were close enough to hear what we wanted. Shout out to the Poobah who closed it down right at 1800 so the semi sober dinghy drivers could get back to their boat before dark. This leg we had sailed most of the way.
November 4, 2015 Anchor up just before dawn for a 0700 start. The early start is so that the smaller boats can get in before nightfall tomorrow. With the early start we are worried we will get in before dawn. It is, after all, only 180 miles. Good wind from the start. About 17 knots. We sailed away from the fleet again. The only boat faster than us sailing at any time was a Farr 53, a former racer, that fell behind in the second leg when they took their chute down at sundown and a 60 foot catamaran on this leg. Sea life had been scarce – no whales, no dolphins but at just after nine we hooked a big dorado. Pulling it in while sailing at 8.5 knots was a two man operation – literally. Both Geoff and Andrew had lines attached to the big fish. After tacos we had enough fish for a party of fourteen in Cabo. The wind built through the day. Shortly after sundown we retrieved the chute. At just before nine we hit 13.5 knots under jib and main in 23 knots of wind. That was our fastest of the trip. During a gybe around 0400 the sheet got caught under the port running light ripping it apart and bending the bow pulpit and cutting the sheet. Just after sunrise we saw our first whale. We were not supposed to enter the bay until 0900 but after holding back for a while we cheated and tied up to slip N1 at 0845, the first boat to do so.
We had sailed and motor sailed about 800 miles in 100 hours averaging 8 knots for the trip In total we had left the dock almost exactly 10 days earlier meaning more than half the time we were at anchorage in either Turtle Bay or Bahia Santa Maria. Although several meals were eaten ashore almost all were expertly prepared by our on-board chefs (the crew). Our watch schedule of two people three hours on and three hours off during the night hadn’t fatigued anyone and gave us an extra pair of eyes for navigation and hands for sail handling. The electric winches and roller furling everything along with the incredibly stable platform of Matador made life easy. Even the 2,000 square foot Spinnaker was reasonably cooperative.
This part of the adventure is officially complete. Follow more on Sea of Cortez 2015