We prepared to leave Catalina for San Diego just in time to avoid the cruise ship commotion. Cruise ships tend to turn relatively quiet places into a temporary circus. For anyone with their own boat, it’s sort of a fantasy to think about going to sea on a vessel where everything is done for you. But doing things easy isn’t always better. I can’t imagine operating, let alone working on a cruise ship with over 2,500 passengers! Cruise shipping offers a very accelerated and watered down sampling of popular boat destinations. For some, a cruise ship tour might be the only way they get to experience it. For me, I prefer experiencing a town and its people while they are functioning on some level of normalcy, even if it means we have to do all the work ourselves sailing to get there.
The distance from Avalon to San Diego is approximately 75 nautical miles, which meant during this passage I’d be doing my first official overnight sail. Knowing this I prepared myself mentally. I knew the sun would be setting, it would be dark and we’d continue moving through the water just like normal. We would clip ourselves into the boat and we would prepare to slow the boat down at night by reefing the main just to be proactive. Our estimated time of arrival would be some time in the early morning. As we sailed past the end of Catalina, we tried desperately to get our Monitor Wind Vane working. But, each time we’d engage it, we were wildly led off course. Seriously?! Grant had deliberately cut the wires on our electronic auto pilot because we were dead set on not using any electrically powered devices for steering, mainly because they are known to fail, and the dumb thing was causing our wheel to get stuck. But, now even the wind vane was giving us nothing but grief. Ugh! Looks like we would be hand steering the entire way to San Diego.
By dusk we had made our way even further away from Catalina. We started to hear some radio chatter from the Navy about more live fire being done from 5 PM to 11 PM on a Tuesday night near San Clemente island. While this time we were more than 20 miles away from the live fire coordinates, there were a few times we saw large flashes of gun fire and heard rumblings in the distance. Talk about Creepy!
By midnight, we reassessed our progress towards our destination and determined we were still going too fast. At this rate we’d arrive in San Diego Harbor around 3 AM! Strange harbors in the middle of the night is not something we like to do, so we slowed ourselves down even more by turning off the engine, reducing canvas and maneuvering to catch a little wind to blow us towards our destination. I found being in the cockpit alone at night steering a course surprisingly relaxing. There wasn’t much to look at besides the stars, the glowing compass, and various twinkling lights on the horizon. What were those lights, and more importantly are they moving? Those were the questions I’d ask myself numerous times. I got out the binoculars just to be sure. We were always in the clear, but I know I called Grant more than a few times just to verify. The binoculars became my new best friend for night sailing. I was amazed at how much you could still see sailing even at night!
San Diego harbor would be the largest harbor we’d ever navigated into to date. At 4 AM when we found ourselves right outside the harbor, so we fired up the engine again and went ahead with the decision to enter the harbor even though it was still dark. The channel leading up to the harbor was extremely well lighted. By the time we navigated the large harbor to our slip, we figured it would probably be daylight. Grant went down below and I continued to take my time following the bouys into the channel. When Grant returned a second time he pointed behind me and said, “Um. . . we might want to move out of the way of that!” I turned around to see that a very dark and very large ship of war had silently creeped up behind us. “Where the hell did that come from!” I said. It was large, dark and creepy. Moments later we found ourselves sharing the channel with not only one large Navy warship but also, another cruise ship. Really? Talk about feeling small. We turned out of their way and then did doughnuts in the channel for a half hour waiting for a little more light before heading in to find our new slip.
The marina we had stayed at in Ventura had free reciprocal benefits at their sister marina in San Diego so we took advantage. This meant we got to stay for one week FREE in the San Diego marina, before we got ready for our next big hop. Surprise! We decided to join the Baja Ha Ha, a Pacific Cruising rally. We went back and forth numerous times about the thought of joining the rally. We weren’t sure if we wanted to do the trip ourselves taking our time or go with the large group. The rally officials were very flexible and made it clear that you could participate in the events as much or as little as you want. If you wanted to do your own thing sailing, you could, as long as you checked in with the Grand Pooba so he knew not to call the coast guard looking for you if you didn’t check in every few days. I liked the thought of joining the rally because of the social aspect. Becoming part of the rally would automatically give us an in for meeting other boats, and a kick in the pants for getting ready to leave by a specific date. All of the Baja Ha Ha boats were encouraged to distinguish themselves by flying the official Baja Ha Ha flag. This rally was guaranteed to lead us to warmer waters, and that’s what I’ve been searching for this entire time!
Maluhia had started wearing her Ha Ha flag back in Avalon, which is where we met our first Ha Ha boat Winterhawk. In our transient slip spot in San Diego we were surrounded by two more Ha Ha boats, Sea Otter and Four Choices. Soon after we met up with Cake (More Ha Ha-ers!). Cake – Kenny & Sheri – were our neighbors on F dock in Ventura! They had left one week prior to our departure. The week leading up to our departure for the Ha Ha was filled with lots of social events where we met even more people and learned about the Baja He He. The He He is for boats that do not join the Ha Ha but do the same route approximately one week after the Ha Ha leaves.
While in San Diego, we attended a few more Ha Ha events, got some more paper charts, Mexican fishing licenses, and continued provisioning. It was much easier to just rent a car and get it all done rather than rely on shuttles. After spending so much time on Avalon, I guess I didn’t notice how tiny the rental car actually was. If the name was any indication, I should have known. It was called the Chevy Spark! We ended up sharing our wheels during the day with Cake, while we did most of our gallivanting at night.
This was our first time in San Diego so we spent a few days sightseeing. We went to the famous zoo and managed to meet up with some non-Ha Ha-ers on Eleutheria. We met Eleutheria when they bought their boat in Ventura, and caught up with them briefly in Avalon. Eleutheria invited us over for dinner where we then met San Succi. Meeting San Succi was noteworthy because they were literally the absolute last boat to sign up for the Ha Ha! After dinner we headed for a walk downtown San Diego for a few drinks, and where a very naked Halloween was obviously being celebrated! Eleutheria would be making their way South as well but on a different schedule. Hopefully we meet up again soon!
The last big event in San Diego before our Ha Ha departure was the skippers meeting, followed by the kick off and costume party at West Marine. While Grant and I were complete weenies because we did not get excited enough to even dress up, there were however some wonderful costumes! The party included authentic Mexican food, a live Mariachi band, Zumba Dancers, and a warm welcome to Mexico by a representative from the Mexican board of Tourism.
The next day was the start of leg one for the Baja Ha Ha boats. The Grand Pubah came onto the radio and did roll call and announced the starting time and place. It was cold and rainy. In 20 years he said it was the worst weather they had ever had for the starting line! It’s usually sunny in San Diego. The fleet of 127 boats (including Maluhia!) participated in a parade throughout the harbor where we were cheered on by local well wishers (even some noteworthy San Diego Iowa Hawkeye fans), San Diego officials, Coast Guard, and the press. We were headed South with the best of them, ready for three days and three nights at sea.