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! 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 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.
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. Damn it! 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 after our earlier shenanigans, we have a strict dry boat policy while underway. So, I knew I wasn’t drunk when we passed Tijuana at night and I was certain I was seeing trees. Trees?! I can’t be seeing trees! I tried the binoculars and really studied the shore line. Same deal, 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.
The next morning the wind and waves were pretty pleasant. We decided to try and 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, and looks like 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!”
We got Moses working at the helm. We had to do something to keep up our speed, so being a cutter rigged boat, we added our stay sail. He didn’t add too much to the equation. So, we put him away. Then we got brave, grabbed our sail tape, and discussed the procedure. With 2 full days and nights left to our destination and the lack of wind, we needed our genoa. We unfurled the sail. I lowered the halyard from the cockpit while Grant went forward and pulled down the entire sail until we could reach the tear. Then I went forward with the tape, and we doctored up the long tear as best we 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 hoisted 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.
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 where they? We put the first reef in our main sail. I did my best to count the seconds between the sets and kept coming up with something like 5 or 6. Every set would usually end with a couple odd ball waves coming from what seemed like random directions. At one point we heard what sounded like a crash into the side of the hull. “What was that?!” I gasped. “Did we just hit a whale?” We stared at each other wide eyed for a moment, and did a quick scan of the area. Nothing, except 3″ 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. We pull 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 and after a few hours heard boats about 50 miles ahead of us 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 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! Damn! 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. We left the dinosaur juice 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. The dinosaur juice was still pumping and we were still moving forward, both good signs that the prop was not fouled.
As we waited for daylight, I double checked the bilge. Everything looked 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 Man, 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!