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Vol 2, Iss 4: What a Difference a Year Makes
November 4 | Santa Rosalía, Baja California Sur, Mexico | 27º20’14” N , 112º15’40” W | Wind: 9 kts W | Weather: 79ºF, finally getting some relief from the heat!
Santa Rosalía, Baja California Sur, Mexico
“Are you leaving for Santa Rosalía on the ‘sleigh ride’ on Monday?” asks Ethan, our neighbor on s/v Eyoni, when we meet him in Cala San Francisquito.
It’s a question we’ve been asking ourselves as we’ve studied the forecasts and made plans for the 80 nautical mile trek south. It’s a tricky passage because we normally travel at 4 knots so it should take us 20 hours.
A 20-hour passage means we need to plan carefully to avoid arriving at night. Our cruising guide warns, “During a nighttime approach keep in mind that the bright lights of Santa Rosalía will be in the background, making it difficult to discern the navigational lights of the breakwater.” We’ll leave mid-afternoon to ensure we arrive in the morning light.
We loathe the idea of leaving Sunday and motoring the entire 80 nm. Instead we will wait until Monday and catch the ‘sleigh ride’ with 22 kts of sustained wind from the North. We expect 30 kt gusts and know the winds have hundreds of miles to build fetch. The conditions could be reminiscent of those we faced a year ago at Cape Mendocino when I broke my leg.
This year for this sail we are going to be better prepared.
I wake up Monday morning dreading today’s journey, but almost immediately a quote from Brené Brown’s Atlas of the Heart comes to mind. “[Dread] is terrible because even if it goes well, I’m so dread-exhausted that I can’t enjoy it.”
I share the quote with Andrés Jacobo and we promise we won’t dread this sail. Instead of using our energy to dread it (like I dreaded rounding Cape Mendocino), we will redirect that energy to prepare for it.
We pull out the After Action Review we completed last year to ensure we haven’t forgotten what we learned. One thing Hal, our trusted South African rigger, mentioned we could try in the future is dropping the mainsail (to remove the boom from the equation) and sail under a Genoa pulled out with the whisker pole. We haven’t had the right conditions to try that yet. We put his recommendation in our back pocket for later.
We set out about our preparation tasks, neither of us admitting until later that we spent the day with a ball of anxiety stubbornly sticking to the pit of our stomachs.
We run jacklines so we can attach our tethers as we move about the boat. We develop and practice a safer way to set up the whisker pole to run wing-on-wing. We charge headlamp batteries. We set up Paulita, our self-steering Monitor Windvane. We take sea sickness medication. We take down solar panels, take out our foul weather gear, and set up the lee-cloths in the berths. We move snack bars to within reach of the cockpit and move cans around the food lockers to prevent ‘items shifting during flight.’
We discuss tactics. Can we limit the necessary jibing (the dangerous act of bringing the stern through the wind) to only 3 times? We decide to jibe the first time by 6 p.m. while we have plenty of light for the sail change.
And then finally, it’s time to leave. We pull up the mainsail, pull up the anchor, and we’re off.
We find ourselves in Santa Rosalía, already our favorite little town in Baja, for the town’s 137th anniversary celebration.
It’s happenstance as the party was rescheduled for this week due to hurricanes this summer. We can’t believe our luck! It is the event of the year. Streets are full of carnival rides and games. The ranches and restaurants from all over the state are serving the most delicious regional foods. We dine on spit-roasted Tacos al Pastor and thirstily drink Agua Fresca with bits of guayaba. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the crowd to watch the indigenous dancers, the crowning of the town queen, and each village’s own folk dance and song on display.
We’re immersed in the culture as our group of 25 cruisers are the only gringos present. The town is jam packed with every resident in a 100-mile radius. Women wearing their nicest makeup and jewelry chatting enthusiastically with friends. Men in starched shirts and polished cowboy boots, exchanging warm handshakes as they recognize neighbors. Little boys carrying prizes they’d won in the rifle shoot-out. Little girls with bows in their hair, enthralled with the dancing on stage. Teenage girls, dressed in the trendiest outfits they own, pretending to ignore the packs of teenage boys spraying each other with stilly string. It’s a familial and festive atmosphere.
If it’s ‘country come to town’ then it’s also ‘country stay in town!’ The locals dance to the live music until 6 a.m. each morning, long after us gringos retire to bed.
It’s nerve wracking to be on constant alert that your boat, your only home, could run into something, the ground, another boat, the dock. It’s nerve wracking to know something, another boat, a panga, anything, could run into your boat, your only home.
For a year, our pack of cruising companions have lived with this stress every time we enter a marina or anchorage. So when we spot the bumper car ride at the anniversary fair, we’re eager to pay the $3 and play a round together.
The carnie turns on the ride and it’s as if everyone’s nerves from the past year EXPLODE all at once.
I guarantee you’ve never seen a group of mature, responsible adults ram into one other with such glee and reckless abandon.
To hit each other over and over with no consequences and no insurance claims leads to pure unadulterated delight.
Our friends on s/v Miette posted a video of the joyful blood bath here. I’m in red and Andrés Jacobo is wearing his blue Ace Hardware shirt: https://www.instagram.com/tv/CkTifNYgIE1/
It’s shrimping season here so the sea is full of shrimp boats. Friends advised us to bring cigarettes and Coca Colas onboard so we could trade them for fresh shrimp, but we’re still looking to make the trade.
We’re off to a rough start. We’re forced to motorsail upwind in order to clear Santa Teresa Point south of us. Every 5 seconds, Ana María crashes head-on into a wave and we’re all drenched with buckets of salt water.
Dave Gable’s joke about sailing comes to mind: “Want the experience of sailing but don’t own a boat? All you have to do is stand under an ice cold shower in front of an industrial fan and rip up hundred dollar bills.” Yep, that sounds about right.
Twenty minutes of bashing later we’ve cleared the point and we can turn downwind. We find ourselves being pushed by the waves instead of colliding with them. The ride is immediately smoother.
Now that we’re sailing downwind, we have a great wind angle to sail wing-on-wing. Andrés Jacobo, who has been hand-steering against the onslaught of waves, hands me the tiller so he can unfurl the Genoa to windward. I struggle to steer with the 8 ft waves pushing our stern around. Just this morning looking at our After Action Review, we were reminded that I was supposed to practice hand-steering in heavy weather. We really need to follow through on that commitment. Still we’re able to pull the Genoa out on the whisker pole and set the monitor wind vane to steer without incident.
We’re sailing - no, FLYING - in a wing-on-wing configuration under a 2nd reefed mainsail. There are 2 kts of current with us and we are surfing down these waves at 10 kts even though our theoretical hull speed is only 7 kts.
“11.6 kts!!!! I just saw 11.6!”
Andrés Jacobo studies the conditions, the forecasts, the charts. “My calculations show if we don’t slow down, we’re going to arrive in Santa Rosalía at midnight.”
Once again we find ourselves in heavier winds than forecasted. Just like last year, we have to make the decision: pull down the mainsail and risk getting stuck in the troughs of the waves or leave up the mainsail and risk a dangerous boom-breaking jibe. We decide now is the time to implement Hal’s recommendation. The Genoa is already out on the whisker pole so all we have to do is take down the mainsail. We need to make the sail change now while we still have plenty of light to see.
I clip my tether into the jacklines and move forward to the boom. I raise the lazy jacks to help us flake the sail while Andrés Jacobo steers upwind and brings the boom in. “Ready!” I call back. “Watch the boom! Dropping the sail!” He responds. I hold tightly to the granny bars at the mast while he releases the halyard. The sail bounces around violently until I can yank it all the way down the mast. He heads back downwind to avoid getting these waves on our beam, risking a repeat of last year’s knockdown. “Boom is secure!” he calls, giving me the cue to move aft to tie the sail down. I hug the boom and patiently secure the sail with the sail ties. The 8 ft waves pummeling us every 8 seconds make the maneuver difficult, but it’s not nearly as discombobulating as the ‘wave trains’ we experienced in Mendocino.
And just like that, we’ve taken down the mainsail safely. Perfectly coordinated and executed. Exactly as well as we’ve done it hundreds of times this year in smoother conditions.
We watch Ana María settle into this new configuration as we eat the dinner I prepped earlier today. We’ve lost 1 kt of speed but the Genoa has enough power on the whisker pole to keep us riding the tops of the waves. With the comfortable angle of the seas and without the risk of a dangerous jibe, we begin to breathe sighs of relief. Ana María is settled for awhile so it’s time to start the watch schedule. I go below to crawl into the comfort and safety of the sleeping bag and lee cloth.
Andrés Jacobo wakes me up 3 hours later so I can take over. He reports Ana María has done great under the poled-out Genoa. We discuss tactics for the next 4 hours. Slow down if I can. Otherwise it will be a nighttime arrival into Santa Rosalía.
Slow down? No way. The winds never subside. Instead I see 38 kts show up on our wind instrument. Definitely higher than forecasted.
They call this a sleigh ride? This does not remind me of the horse-drawn sleigh ride we took on our honeymoon in Park City. No. This…this reminds me of the best sledding of my life. As a teenager, my church youth group used to drive to the backwoods of Eminence, Missouri every winter to go spelunking. If we were really lucky, a fresh snowfall would cancel the caving and we’d spend the day sledding down a 100-yard steep icy hill.
This sail reminds me of those days.
You look down the hill. You make the brave decision to go for it. And you just hold on as hard as you can, desperately steering away from the trees, and holding your breath until you skid safely to the bottom.
We’re still sailing at 8 kts, surfing every wave that hits our stern. The Monitor Windvane is keeping up with the wind and seas. The steering adjustment we made to the system after last year’s incident is working reliably. Ana María feels like she may even be enjoying this ride.
I turn on the Hamilton soundtrack and dance and sing along in the cockpit. The upbeat music keeps me energized and the plot line keeps me awake until it’s time to round Cape Virgenes. We’ll have to turn even farther downwind after the Cape and I don’t want a repeat of last year’s entry into Monterey. I was too slow to respond to a wind shift, missed the point, and Andrés Jacobo was forced to spend the next 3 hours tacking upwind to get us into Monterey.
This time I am focused on tactics. I don’t have to worry about jibing the boom, but I have a poled-out Genoa so I am constrained to sailing at 150º off the wind on either tack. Every 15 minutes between Hamilton songs, I make slight course adjustments in an effort to avoid any more sail changes for the trip.
By the time Andrés Jacobo wakes up for a watch change, it looks like my tactical efforts were successful. We should be able to maintain this course until we can pull into safe harbor. I once again go below to rest up before our arrival.
Only an hour later, Andrés Jacobo wakes me up. “I need your help. We’re arriving in Santa Rosalía.” I look at my phone. 3:06. Despite our best efforts, despite ‘the best laid plans of mice and men’, we’re making landfall in the dead of night.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Why would you ever go into a marina at night if you can help it?” And you’re right. All kinds of things can happen when you can’t see. We’ve read the stories, heeded the warnings. But there is no safe anchorage between San Francisquito and Santa Rosalía where we could pull in to get protection from these 35 kt winds. We can either sail 40 more miles on this midnight sleigh ride or we can try for safe harbor. When you’re a sailor, sometimes you have to make the least dangerous decision.
“One, two, three, and, five, six, seven, and!”
“Let’s do a salsa class! You can teach us all how to dance. Even Max!” exclaimed Karen (s/v Lusty, from last month’s magical adventures), when I let it slip Andrés Jacobo is a fantastic salsa dancer.
When we make it into the Santa Rosalía marina, everyone was already anticipating our arrival. “Oh you’re Andrés on Ana María? Karen said you’re going to teach us how to salsa!”
Not wanting to disappoint, we made a deal with Max & Karen: You gather the cruisers and bring a speaker and Andrés Jacobo will teach the class.
Gather the people they did! 22 cruisers showed up to learn the moves. They showed up ready to laugh, have fun, and tear up the dance floor.
Andrés Jacobo, for his part, gave them a great introduction to salsa: teaching the rhythm (“1, 2, 3, and, 5, 6, 7, and…), forming a dance train, showing them how to dance with a partner, and making them rotate partners often enough they danced with almost everyone.
“That was a great night! I danced with 10 different women,” remarked one happy customer, Mike, a middle-aged cruiser from Missouri.
After much prodding from the crowd, Andrés Jacobo ended the class with a demonstration of his moves, his fancy footwork, and of his twirling me around the dance floor.
Meredith, our new friend, was sweet to tell us at the end of the night, “As much fun as it was to watch you dance, the best part was watching you two look at each other throughout the night. There’s clearly a lot of love there.”
“What do you eat out there? You’re not still eating freeze-dried backpacking food, are you?” I get this question a lot. How do we feed ourselves?
We’ve gotten the hang of provisioning for 28 days between grocery store trips. It’s been a challenge with no freezer and a tiny fridge, but we’ve only lost a cucumber and sweet potato to spoilage. Here’s what we ate during our month in the remote northern Sea of Cortez.
Lunches: Tuna melt*; Avocado chicken salad; Black bean, corn, & tomato salad*; Black bean avocado quesadillas*; Curried chickpea wraps; Black bean tuna salad*; Cucumber chicken salad; Chickpea tuna salad*; Chickpea masala*; Chicken verde; Sofritos bowl; Salsa chicken; Chicken tomato couscous*; and ham & cheese sandwiches.
Dinner: Chicken primavera; Mexican zucchini skillet*; Chicken fried rice; Carolyn’s gazpacho*; Sesame chicken*; Hamburgers à la Mark Rhoades; Eggplant chickpea tagine; Black bean sweet potato hash; Spicy zucchini casserole*; Spaghetti Bolognese; Black bean burgers; Rice & beans*; Greek pasta salad; Vegetable salad à la Que Tal*; Grilled brats with Japanese cucumber salad*; Stuffed pepper soup; Lentil soup; Tacos al Pastor; Colombian Bandeja Paisa; Minestrone pasta salad*; Black bean stuffed sweet potato; Mexican casserole dip*; Ropa Vieja; Grilled pizza; Sausage & potatoes*; Chickpea shaksuka; Stovetop tuna penne*; Tofu stir fry.
*Recipes from The Boat Galley Cookbook
Remember in the last edition…when I told you how crucial and reliable our watermaker is? Well it broke. Completely broke. **pulls out hair in maddening frustration**
I come up to the cockpit, binoculars in hand, to help Andrés Jacobo furl in the Genoa. Thankfully we’re now in the lee of Cabo Virgenes so the wind has died significantly. We get out all of our charts, both the Mexican Navy charts and the Aqua Maps charts, and start looking for navigation lights.
The cruising guide was right. The bright lights of the town make it difficult to discern the 2 pair of green and red lights that mark the entrance to the harbor. It’s like a high-stakes game of “Where’s Waldo?” We’re staring at thousands of twinkling white lights, scanning, scanning, scanning for one green and one red among the sea of distractions.
After a couple of minutes staring through the binoculars, I see a green one. I point it out to Andrés Jacobo. “I don’t think that’s it. It doesn’t make sense.” We pull up the various charts, trying to get our bearings. We look for other references…the big red flashing lights on the antenna on the hill behind it. Does the relative position of the green light make sense against that antenna? Yeah…yeah actually it does. But then where’s the red light that should be next to it? Oooo maybe that’s it? Was that a blinking red light or is that a traffic light?
We edge closer to the green light, cautious. Many boats have run aground coming into marinas at night because they were ‘just absolutely sure that was the light they were looking for.’ Capt Woolley, our sailing instructor, drilled into us to check and double check and triple check and keep looking for supporting or disproving evidence of our position.
As we get closer to the green, the red becomes more and more obvious. Our radar begins to pick up the shape of the harbor breakwater, the port, and the marina. Growing more confident, we make the turn into the channel and are relieved to see the 2 blinking white range lights. All we have to do is line up with those lights and we’ll have safe entry into the harbor.
Once through the channel, exchanging one stress for another, we begin to scout out a place in the marina. We’ve heard the marina is packed so we might not have a slip. We finally spot one at the very beginning of the fairway. It’s a starboard tie and we have an off-the-dock wind. !!!!!!! There are complicated mechanics involved in that bad news but basically:
Starboard tie + off-the-dock wind = Boat mechanics and nature are actively working against us to push us AWAY from the dock.
Andrés Jacobo steers us back out into the harbor so we can prep Ana María to dock. As I tie fenders to both sides and get all 5 docklines ready, I’m transported back to the last time we had this same challenge.
Just over a year ago, before we even sailed out the Strait of Juan de Fuca and made the Big Left Turn into the Pacific, we accidentally arrived in the Port Angeles marina at night after a rough sail. We struggled to navigate around and communicate with the big yachts arriving at the same time. (This year we discovered we had been using a broken radio the whole time…no wonder they didn’t answer our VHF calls.) We narrowly pulled into a starboard tie with an off-the-dock wind. The wind blew the boat down towards our neighbor and we had to use a boat hook to avoid a collision. We forgot to put the boat in forward so we had one useless line keeping us on the dock. No damage was done, but the stress was enough to keep us in bad moods for 2 days.
And here we go again a year later.
As Andrés Jacobo steers us back toward the dock, I crawl over the lifelines, holding onto the shrouds, calling out distances to the dock, before stepping back off the boat and slipping the springline around the aft dock cleat. “Boat is stopped,” the Captain announces. I complete the cleat hitch then grab the bow and stern lines to snug Ana María up against the dock.
We just docked without even waking up our dockmates. We sailed without panic, without fights. We sailed without hurting ourselves or Ana María.
I realize: We are more confident and more competent sailors.
Our friend Mille posted pictures of her little 2-year-old boy: one from this Halloween and one from last Halloween. She posts pictures throughout the year so I’ve seen him grow gradually from a baby into a toddler. But from month to month, you don’t see much of a difference. In these 2 pictures side by side, it’s hard to believe he’s the same little boy. He’s grown so much in a year.
Tonight’s conditions and challenges were similar to ones we faced last year. We’ve sailed all year long. From one sail to the next, it doesn’t feel like we’ve changed. And yet, tonight I see how we’ve grown. We’ve developed. We’re the same people, but we’ve become better sailors, better partners.
What a difference a year makes.
We’ll hop from one snorkel spot to the next en route to La Paz where we need to figure out the potable water situation.
This Thanksgiving, may you find your life full of things for which you can be thankful.
Fair winds and following seas,
To see photos, follow us on Instagram: @CoCaptainsLog