The Baja Ha Ha is known as the “nothing serious” rally to where it’s warm in the winter. Being from Iowa, it didn’t take too much arm twisting for me to say, “yes please,” to a warmer winter!
Day 1 – Cold and Rainy
As we pulled away from San Diego it was still cold and rainy. We were advised to tack well offshore, where the wind was forecasted be 12 – 14 knots WSW, building to 15-18 knots with waves 5 feet at 7 seconds.
It was cold and rainy! We were both sporting our heavy weather gear. I was pretty excited to be able to model my little red suit under which I had an additional four layers varying from long sleeves to light jackets. I hadn’t been this bundled up since going out for winter recesses in middle school!
The first leg would take us 360 miles South of San Diego. At an average speed of 5.5 knots (required to keep up with the fleet) we’d arrive at Turtle Bay in approximately three days and three nights.
A major part of our comfort would rely on whether or not we could get the monitor wind vane working. After much discussion and getting a few tips from some of the other boats in San Diego, we spent the first part of the morning fiddling with it. No success. (insert temper tantrum)
There had to be something obvious we were missing! I grabbed the manual and started reading, “It is possible to lead the pendulum lines backwards to the wheel adapter. This makes the monitor inoperable.” No kidding! From a graphic designers perspective the instructional drawing was good, but it wasn’t that good.
The written description offered no clarification. Grant took the whole thing apart and switched the lines around. We eagerly engaged the device and awaited the results. Success! It was working! From that point on we added our third crew member, and named our new working monitor, Moses.
Before long we were sailing past the Coronado Islands and found ourselves enjoying one of our first Ha Ha sunsets. By this time in the evening, the rain had stopped, and we were dealing with light headwinds. Really? I thought this was a downwind run? While there were still plenty of boats to be seen on the horizon all of us had begun to disperse quite nicely.
Night 1 – Torn Sails and Night Deceptions
Around 9 PM the wind changed a bit and our sail combination led Moses too far upwind causing us to heave to. We disengaged Moses and manually turned the boat back downwind and were immediately stunned!
Our genoa would not pull free from the spreaders! WTF?
“It’s pinned!” I shouted.
“On what?!” Grant shouted back.
A quick shine of our spot light showed the sail was pierced by a cotter pin left exposed on the end of our spreaders by our own doing. (Insert more choice words) We desperately turned the boat back and forth, up and down wind to unstick the sail.
Finally it flew free but not without adding about a 6″ long tear to the top of the sail.
We immediately furled the sail and put it away to avoid further damage. Then we sat fuming as we discussed the situation. How could we tear our head sail our first night at sea?!
Another snag, we wouldn’t be able to keep up with the fleet by only using our main. Ugh! We felt with the wind and waves being what they were we’d have to use the dinosaur juice more than we anticipated.
As much as we wanted to crack open a cold one after our torn sail episode, we stayed true to our dry boat policy while underway. I knew I wasn’t drunk during my watch as I peered through the binocs and was certain I was seeing trees.
Trees?! I can’t be seeing trees!
I immediately called Grant for a second opinion.
“I think we might be too close to shore. Are those trees I’m seeing or what?”
A quick check of the GPS showed we were well off shore. Really? I couldn’t believe it.
I was seeing a serious optical illusion! The dark spots in-between the lights on shore reflected a perfect silhouette that in my mind resembled trees.
Day 2 – SSB Woes
The next morning the wind and waves were pleasant. We decided to use our SSB to check in. We had played around with the receiver before, but this morning we would try our first transmission to communicate our coordinates via the daily check in with the Baja Ha Ha fleet.
Grant hoisted our newly made antenna using the spinnaker halyard, went down below to fiddle with the radio and returned shortly to see the antenna had broken apart, leaving a good portion stranded completely out of reach at the top of the mast!
(Insert even more choice words.)
That was it! Looks like we’d be checking in via a VHF relay. Plus we just lost the ability to use another sail during the first leg, since our spinnaker halyard was now stuck at the top of the mast. Ugh!
This sort of soured our spirits, but Debbie on Sailors Run was all we needed to pull us out of our funk. When I reported our position for relay to her, and explained our sail tear, she replied in a chipper voice;
“Ohhh, I’m sorry to hear that but, I’ve been there, done that!”
With Moses working the helm we had to do something to keep up our speed. Being a cutter rigged boat, we hoisted the stay sail. He didn’t add too much to the equation, so we put him away.
With 2 full days and nights left to our destination and the lack of wind, we needed our genoa. We got brave, grabbed our sail tape, and discussed the procedure.
With the sail unfurled I lowered the halyard from the cockpit while Grant went forward and pulled it down until we could reach the tear. I went forward with the tape to repair the long tear as best I could by applying tape to both sides of the sail. Then we switched roles. I stayed at the bow spilling the wind from the sail while Grant went back to the cockpit to hoist it back up.
We did it!
The genoa was back in business, although we were extremely careful with unfurling too much of the sail moving forward.
Days & Nights: 2-3 – Things That Go Bump In The Night
After the second day at sea, the second and third nights started to blend together. On our third afternoon, winds picked up to about 18 knots. The waves started forming white caps, and were accelerating fast and closely behind the boat. A slightly terrifying ride, but after awhile the conditions started to sink in and seemed to be getting better.
Or were they?
With the first reef in our main sail I entertained myself by counting the seconds between the wave sets. Five to six second intervals seemed to be the norm. Each set would end with a couple of odd ball waves coming from what seemed like random directions. At one point there was a loud crash into the side of the hull.
“What was that?! Did we just hit a whale?”
Staring at each other wide eyed we did a quick scan of the area. Nothing – except 3 inches of water on the side deck that wouldn’t drain. Another quick scan and we found the end of one of our lines had made its way into the drain. After pulling it out and the water drained immediately.
Looks like we just got side pooped!
We had no choice but to continue on the wild ride. After a few hours boats about 50 miles ahead of us were reporting 20 knots near the outside of Cedros Island. As the night wore on, other boats started asking for updated weather reports. (They were on the same wild ride.) There was no relief. 15-20+ knots wore on through the evening.
Then, as if there wasn’t enough drama, I started to notice that the lowest batten on our main sail (previously repaired by us in San Diego) had once again poked through the hard pocket attached to the luff of the sail. We pulled it out so not to loose or break it and stashed it down below.
We made a decision to try to head for the inside of Cedros Island in order to seek some relief from the crazy wind and waves. We started to see the silhouette of the Island and things remained lumpy until we started to move more behind it.
At this point we had popped the second lowest batten pocket on our main sail!
We pulled out the second batten and stashed it down below. Our sail shape was turning ugly but we had double reefed and left it be.
The dinosaur juice was flowing as we limped along to our destination. It was now early in the morning and we only had about 8 hours until our arrival when we heard another alarming loud clunk near our stern. Now what?
“The wheel feels funny, like there is some resistance” Grant reported.
Shining the spotlight into the water revealed nothing, we’d have to wait until daylight to see anything. We were still moving forward and the engine was still running, both good signs that the prop was not fouled.
As we waited for daylight, I double checked the bilge. Normal.
Grant looked at the engine. Normal.
In the first light we started to see fishing pots floating on buoys in the surrounding area. Oh no, I hope we didn’t hit one of those! What if we are dragging a pot? I fantasized about dragging a pot of lobster into turtle bay and sharing it with the rest of the fleet.
Looking at the stern we noticed our monitor’s paddle had flipped up and was loosely floating. Humm, didn’t notice that last night. Next, we decided to get out Johnny (our Go Pro) and have a look down under. I took the camera down below to review.
“It’s just kelp! Prop looks fine,” I shouted to Grant.
A huge sigh of relief! We’d worry about clearing it after we were anchored at Turtle Bay.
As we neared Turtle Bay we got excited! We were officially in Mexico! Of course we couldn’t make it into the anchorage without one more thing to add to our fix it list. Our tachometer stopped working! Yay!