Friday, May 16, 2014

Leg 5—Bahia Tortugas to Ensenada

April 20-May 1

My journal from April 20 says, "In some ways, this is our toughest leg. Good thing we're feeling tough." We left Turtle Bay late, just before midnight. Bryan motored us out of the bay and took his normal night watch. By morning, we were off Punta Eugenia, cutting between Isla Cedros and the Baja peninsula. We'd heard it could be rough in there, as the wind and currents funneled through the tight passage, but we had smooth sailing until we hit the northern end of the island. As we left the protection of the island to our west, the wind and currents picked up significantly. It wasn't too uncomfortable, but we spent the afternoon and early evening trying to resist looking at our speed-over-ground. The low numbers, 2.4 kts...2.1 kts...1.7 kts, were too depressing to consider—about half of our typical speed. A local fisherman had recommended Isla San Geronimo as a great stopover spot and we'd planned to pull in there Tuesday night. It was already clear, we wouldn't make it. The weather was predicted to worsen by Tuesday afternoon and, at this rate, we might not even make our 2nd choice port, the remote bay of San Carlos, before the winds picked up even more. During the night, the daytime winds died down and we made a little better time. 
Prepping to make a snack...oven mitts and vice grips serve dual purposes at sea
Tuesday was a long, long day of fighting our way toward San Carlos.
Yes, I straightened the horizon (No, we didn't straighten up the cockpit)
As the afternoon wore on and the headwind increased, I wedged myself into a safe spot and did the calculations. X rate, Y hours...would we make it in by night? The sea got pretty bumpy and our speed decreased until we started to wonder if we'd somehow fouled our prop. It would have been really difficult, even dangerous, to dive on it in these conditions and it didn't seem to be hurting the engine or the shaft so we just pushed on. 
The last 20 miles, normally an easy 4 hour run, took us 10 hours. But even at that slow rate, crew morale didn't take too much of a hit. We'd expected much of the bash back to be like this and felt pretty lucky that we hadn't had these conditions for more of our travel time up Baja.

About an hour before sunset, we finally neared the bay. Our charts listed it as safe, but windy—more beloved by windsurfers than sailors in need of a rest. 
It didn't seem like we would be able to find shelter from the wind and sea, but as we edged north into the bay, and prepared to drop the anchor, sure enough, the sea settled down a bit. We got the anchor set, deployed the flopper-stopper, and went below for a surprisingly comfortable night. The wind blew all night and all the next day. We turned on music to mask the whine in the rigging and did a few boat chores. I squelched around on the soggy carpet vowing to buy rubber-soled slippers in the next port (in rough conditions, a little water always seems to find its way inside and wet socks? Shudder!) Bryan cleaned the sand out of our cockpit drains, only spawning one or two more projects in the process, and dug out the last of the precious Mexican coffee. 
In the afternoon, while he got some rest, the girls and I watched several hours of classic comedy DVDs, a gift from our friends on another sailboat in Turtle Bay. Our weather reports from Turtle Bay were shot; the system we'd expected Wednesday had come in on Tuesday, so we couldn't trust the rest of the report to be helpful at all. We couldn't pull in any weather reports in San Carlos, but the barometer and cloud formations seemed to indicate that we were at the tail end of a little blow. Sure enough, Wednesday evening, the wind eased. We waited an hour or so to see if it would pick back up and then made the collective call to attempt the jump up to San Quintin. If the weather kicked back up, we could take shelter at San Geronimo, 20 miles away, or Punta Baja, another 10 miles or so north. And worst case, we could always turn and run downwind back to San Carlos. We dropped a GPS point on our e-charts in case we needed to find our way back in the dark and then hauled up the anchor. We braced ourselves to have to stop short of San Quintin, trying to count every small jump as a victory. But we had smooth motoring through the night and made it all the way to San Quintin on Thursday afternoon.

I'd been trying not to worry about fuel for several days now. Because of the extra hours at sea between Bahia Tortugas and San Carlos, we didn't have enough gas to get to Ensenada. Now we couldn't ignore the problem anymore. Our guide books indicated that, in an emergency, we could get a ride across the shallow lagoon entrance and into town on a panga. Or we could move to the other side of the bay, row in through the high surf, and beg for help from the hotel. Friday morning, we tried raising help on the radio and stood in the cockpit waving colorful pillowcases in an attempt to flag down a fisherman. 
By mid-morning, Bryan made the call to take the surf-landing/beg-for-help route. We drove the few miles across the wide bay and anchored as close to the surf as we dared. He and I took a few minutes getting ready. We put dry clothes into waterproof bags and tied the backpacks, the fuel jugs, the oars, and our shoes to the gunwales of the dinghy in case we flipped trying to land. We took the handheld VHF but left the girls behind. It would be hard enough getting through the surf intact with the 2 of us aboard, but Bryan thought my language skills were worth the extra weight.
He rowed toward shore and I marveled at our calm. How far we'd come since our first time in this bay! We watched the swells, counted the sets, and shifted our weight to keep us from getting hit by an early-breaking wave. Bryan picked a small wave and rowed to match its speed, surfing down the front edge into the golden sand. Perfect!
Exhilarated from our landing, we stripped off our lifejackets and dragged the dinghy up the beach. We walked in the sun up the dunes to the hotel and hid in a back stairwell while I took off my thermals. Even just a few feet inland, it was significantly warmer than out on the boat. A quick stop at the reception desk yielded a ride with a bored chef. He didn't have to start dinner until 3 pm and was happy to drive us the 5 miles into town. We tossed the jugs in the bed of the truck and climbed in after them.
The climate was noticeably different than that in dry Bahia Tortugas and greenhouses lined the highway. 
While Bryan got gas, I chatted with the chef. “Are you sure you don't want anything at the mini-mart?” he asked. We picked up cold sodas for the crew and offered to buy him one too. He turned us down and we headed back to the hotel. 
He pulled up as close as he could to the beach access and seemed surprised at the tip we pressed on him.
On the walk back, Bryan leap-frogged the tanks down to the dinghy to give his arms a break. 
We repeated our prep work, tying the now-full tanks and our bag and oars into the dinghy. We pulled up our pants and waded down the shallow beach up to our knees. The first few waves were definitely too big, but we'd seen a small set while we were getting ready and knew to be patient. We waited until the waves got scary-big and then diminished. As the first of the smaller set approached, we hopped in the dinghy and started rowing out. But the sea is anything but predictable and a late-breaking wave curved high above our heads and collapsed over us, soaking us and swamping the dinghy. We jumped out in the waist-deep water and sloshed back into shore, tossing our gear back into the dinghy, though it was full to the brim and barely afloat. I'd forgotten to tie on my sunglasses this time, and one of the oars escaped its tether. But I snagged the oar before it could float away and found my sunglasses in the bottom of the dinghy.
We had just started the long process of bailing with our hands (in retrospect, it would have been easier to dump out the water while the boat was still floating. Oh, well!) when we noticed a group of divers getting ready to launch their panga through the surf. One approached. “¿Hablas Español?” We worked out a plan for them to drive me and all our sopping gear through the breakers and let Bryan and Rover handle the surf on their own. Before I knew it, they'd bailed out the dinghy, tossed me in their boat and delivered me, dripping wet, into LiLo's cockpit. 
I looked back to check on Bryan, but he was already through the breakers and rapidly approaching. We would have been just fine the second time, but it was much easier without all the extra weight (I'm aware of the joke potential here already, thanks.)
Back on the boat, I waited for our helpers to motor away before stripping off my wet clothes in the cockpit and going below to pull on dry ones. 
Bryan, who'd been watching the weather with a little more optimism than I had, arrived with undampened energy. “If we leave right now, we might pull into Ensenada before the weather is completely impossible. If we wait, we won't be able to leave again for 3 days or so.” We took a poll of the crew and all agreed it was worth a few hours of discomfort to be done with the Baja Bash a few days early. Having learned a thing or two about division-of-labor on our trip south, I spoke my bargain aloud. “I'm happy to go right now and promise that, when it gets rough, I'll tuck myself into my cozy bed and ride it out as long as you're happy to go right now and promise that, when it gets rough, you'll be OK to handle it on your own for however long it takes." Of course, I was perfectly willing to do anything I could to help smooth the rough passage, but going into it with no expectations made it easier on us both. I knew Bryan wasn't taking on anything he couldn't handle—he would happily single-hand in these conditions—and could relax, knowing he wasn't resenting my comfortable ride. (It wasn't all comfort. Here's a blurry shot of me from that evening after the boat lurched and dumped the contents of the bookshelf on my face. Meira laughed so hard, I didn't even mind holding the pose for a photo shoot.)
Meira hauled up the anchor and, wet clothes still hanging from every secure place, we were on our way.
So, yeah. It was a long day. 
Meira's photo processing captures the sea's mood perfectly
And a long night. 
And the next day felt pretty long too. 

But we could taste the end (of this leg anyway!) The girls and I took the evening, as usual. By morning, when we would have normally taken over from Bryan, the seas had picked up enough that Hannah and I were a little queasy trying to move around the boat. Hannah and I crawled into the V-berth (aka anti-gravity-chamber) together and chatted over the smacks and crashes every boat makes when beating to windward. (“LiLo's just doing the biggest belly flop ever,” I reassured her once, when the boat dropped sideways off a wave and the surprisingly-solid-sounding crash reverberated through the hull.) 
Bryan dug deep and, with assistance from the indefatigable Meira, pushed us into the wind, past the last point of land, and then turned off the wind to beam-reach the last 10 miles into Ensenada.
We raised the sails in the brisk afternoon winds and Bryan got a little rest in the cockpit. (These 2 photos are from the same angle on the boat. That "horizon" in the second is actually the big beam swell. It looks as if it will break into the cockpit but every time, the boat rides it up and over and we come up dry.) 

At the last minute, we held back while a cruise ship motored through the breakwater and then it was our turn—racing the looming rainclouds across the protected bay and into a slip at the marina. We tied up in a hurry and headed up to the malecon for a fish dinner to celebrate the end of Leg 5, the last of the Baja Bash!

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