Voyage of Traveler / Blog

June 23, 2010

Traveler Postcard–The Baja Bash!

Traveler Postcard–The Baja Bash!
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
26-05 N, 114-39 W
90 miles south of Turtle Bay
415 miles SSE of San Diego
326 miles NW of Cabo San Lucas

Cruisers for years have been calling the wild ride up the coast from Cabo San Lucas to San Diego the Baja Bash, and for good reason.  It is almost always bad weather: heavy winds and big waves out of the NNW, right on the bow, and set back by a strong adverse current running down the coast. Plus there are unlit, offshore reefs to worry about. You may remember the schooner “Goodwill” wrecked on the Sacramento reef with all hands lost.

The three things you must have for the Baja Bash are:

(1) A favorable weather report. “Favorable” is a relative term.  Here it means winds under 25 knots on the bow.  You know it is going to be snotty.  You just don’t want to go when it is predicted to be REALLY SNOTTY. We started out, departing Cabo San Lucas on June 20, with an unusually favorable forecast: wind was under 10 knots and variable in direction. And we had those conditions for the first night, motoring along in calm seas.  We said to each other how we lucked out on the weather, and joked that this was going to be the “Baja Glass.”  But forecasts are only right some of the time.  And we are now, on Day Four, experiencing the typical NW’ly winds of 20 knots, right on the bow, with 4 to 6 foot waves.  It is a bouncy, wet and cold ride, to be sure, with a wave breaking over the bow every three to five minutes, washing over the deck and smashing into the dodger. Night and day.  That keeps you awake!  I’m glad I had the dodger repaired and all of the seams re-stitched in La Paz–it’s really being tested.

(2) Lots of fuel.  This means not only a full fuel tank, but also carrying extra jerry jugs and doing fuel transfers from the jerrys to your main tank along the way.  There is only one half-way decent place to stop for more fuel along the entire 730 mile coastline from Cabo to Ensenada, and that is at Turtle Bay, 420 miles up from Cabo.  We had plenty of fuel, we thought:  117 gallons of diesel in the main tank and our normal four jerry jugs (each five gallons), plus I bought in La Paz an extra 50 liter jerry jug, for a total of 150 gallons. Normally, at a cruising speed of 7.5 knots, our burn rate is one gallon an hour. Allowing for adverse current and rough sea conditions, I figured we would make good speed over ground of five knots.  So with this much fuel we should have made Turtle Bay easily, with a fat reserve.  But we did not.  For some unknown reason, our burn rate was an extraordinarily high 4.5 gallons per hour.  We ran out of fuel 170 miles south of Turtle Bay. I added 15 gallons from the jerry jugs to the main tank, leaving one of the five gal. jerrys for reserve later, if needed.  And we started sailing the rest of the way to Turtle Bay.  Hey, no problemo.  After all, this is a sailboat! Then the wind got very light, so I kicked on the engine, or tried to.  Which leads me to the essential third leg of the stool…

(3) A strong engine.  Our 110 hp Yanmar has been running very well lately, after overcoming a long series of problems over the past two years (this new engine was installed in French Polynesia in June 2008.)  I was really counting on her to perform when she was needed the most: for the challenging Baja Bash.  You can only imagine how my heart sank when I turned the key to start the engine and in wouldn’t start.  I got out the tool box and tried my best to fix it.  But although I know now much more about the working (and non-working) mechanics of a marine diesel engine, I am still a novice, and this problem was over my head.  I think it is a faulty stater motor, perhaps a stuck solenoid inside the starter–something that is beyond my abilities.  So we are sailing to San Diego!  After all, this is a sailboat! (Didn’t I just say that?)

But here is what that means.  We must tack out, sailing westerly on a starboard tack, well offshore, then when due south of Guadeloupe Island we will tack back to sail north.  Compared to motoring a straight course for San Diego, this beating to windward extends the number of miles sailed and the days at sea significantly.  And it is rough and surprisingly cold out here.  We are really getting tossed around, making it difficult to sleep, so crew exhaustion is a growing concern.  But we have plenty of food and water, and the forecast is for NW winds of 15 to 20 knots all the way to the US border.

At 0400 last night, after the moon set so it was pitch dark, and as the winds increased to 26 apparent, I had to crawl from the cockpit up to the mast to put another reef in the main in rough seas.  The deck was lit, amazingly, with phosphorescence as wave after wave washed around me.

What a dramatic finish for this incredible voyage.  But it is a little more drama than I wanted.

On the bright side, to help me as crew I not only have Brian, who is now an experienced blue water sailor, quite comfortable in these conditions and capable to stand watches, night and day, by himself.  But I also have my girlfriend Barbara, bless her heart, back on Traveler.  She knew how rough the Baja Bash can be and volunteered for this leg anyway.  She just finished her school year and could have been playing volleyball in Manhattan Beach.  But instead she flew into Los Cabos and is here with me, and for that I am most grateful.  And so pleased that we will be able to finish this voyage around the world together!

with Barbara and Brian
“Team Traveler”


P.S. We are still on schedule, in spite of the above-mentioned set backs, for the Traveler Homecoming and Crew Reunion on Saturday, July 3 at 2 pm at the Balboa Yacht Club, and y’all are invited.

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