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The Baja Bash

Cabo San Lucas to San Diego: 750 miles uphill!!

Lemme outta here!

Baja_map (69K)It’s May 21st, the temperature is 90 degrees in Raven’s main cabin, the wind is blowing desert dust into everything, and it’s time to get out of Cabo and head for San Diego. Signe “Nothing Sails to Weather Like a Boeing” Ramsten Twardowski abandoned me . . . er, I mean . . . flew home yesterday, via a visit to Paul and Michelle in San Francisco. Pleading, “I really, really have to get the garden ready for the Big Wedding this summer,” (admittedly, a pretty good excuse) she exercised her spousal discretion and also demonstrated her high level of intelligence by opting out of ‘The Baja Bash,’ as sailors in Mexico know it fondly. She did leave us well supplied with gourmet treats, probably enough food to get us to Maui at least!

The Baja Bash is the reverse of the Baja Ha-Ha (note the change in terminology and attitude!) rally we were part of last November. It covers the same 750 miles, but this time it’s upwind, up-waves, and up-current at a time of the year when the contrary winds are usually strong. It can be a battle all the way, and one boat has already been lost this year (the solo skipper was saved just as his boat sank) so it’s nothing to take lightly. The books all say ‘Wait till July’ but insurance companies — who want the boats out of Mexico before hurricane season starts in June — and haulout schedules drive most of us to make the trek in late May.

The Crew

Raven's_crew_for_the_Bash (96K)Happily, three really good cruising friends, who apparently have the same warped perspective that I do, actually volunteered to leave their boats in Puerto Escondido and crew aboard Raven for the Bash. Lesley and Bob of ‘North Road’, who won their class in the Banderas Bay Regatta, are competitive sailors who like challenges and want to see how Raven sails. Stef of ‘Circe’ has been cruising Mexico for five years with his wife Marilyn, and is going to take his boat on the Bash next month, so he wants to gain the experience for his own passage.

Bob_&_Steph_lashing_the_anchor (74K)We’ve been doing the last prep items for the passage — bringing the dinghy and motor on deck, lashing on the anchor (so that big seas don’t knock it off the bow), changing the engine oil, installing the offshore safety gear, and battening down the KP_crew_on_the_Bash (65K) hatches (yeah, we really do that). All that stuff is much easier when you’ve got experienced and willing crew who know what they’re doing, like Stef, Lesley, and Bob. The watch schedule is worked out, the galley tasks divided up, the last minute shopping done, so now all we need is a weather window to be able to leave this place!


We wrote about Cabo San Lucas last November, when we enjoyed the warm weather and the post-Ha-Ha hoopla. But now, after having cruised Mexico for several months, we can confess that Cabo is our least favorite town in Mexico. In fact, Cabo seems to have more in common with Marina del Rey and UCLA Fraternity Row than with Mexico. The marina is full of sport fishing boats that have little in common with the cruising mindset. We are in a slip — which costs twice the highest previous slip rental we’ve ever paid — the only sailboat among fifty- to seventy-foot powerboats, all with fighting chairs, outriggers, and a zillion rod holders in their cockpits. Big cigars, sleeveless Harley-Davidson T-shirts, and boat names like ‘Lethal Weapon’ and ‘Reel Hooker’ set the tone. Getting to sleep early isn’t easy because of the competing discos. Then from five to seven in the morning it’s “Revenge of the Thunderboats” as the entire sportfish fleet vrooms its way out to sea to pester all those tuna and dorado. And that’s why the fearsome Baja Bash seems to us like a better deal!


Weather reports are always critical for cruisers, and never more so than now. We have four formal sources of weather data: 1) our weather fax receiver that can print fifty or so detailed weather charts a day; 2) photos of the Earth that we download directly from satellites as they pass overhead several times a day; 3) Don aboard ‘Summer Passage’ who emails detailed weather forecasts to many of us daily; and 4) Commanders Weather, a professional weather routing service used by many cruisers and round-the-world racers.

Of course, all that and two bucks will get you a nice latte.

Marine weather forecasting is notoriously difficult, especially when you have all these near-shore thermal conditions. And then, of course, there are the usual dockside rumors that confuse us even more. So we’re just going to guess and go!

The reports show relatively benign conditions up the coast — winds 10 to 20 knots, seas 6 to 8 feet — but right here in Cabo the local conditions are tougher. There have been 25- to 35-knot winds off Cabo Falso, the principal cape we have to round near here. We expect to spend a few hours beating our way out of that stuff, pounding all the way, until we can get into the clearer air 10 to 40 miles north. After that, we hope to see those ‘relatively benign’ conditions!

When to Depart

We hope to leave Cabo soon, maybe today or on Tuesday, May 22nd. All of which depends on the winds and when — or if — they decide to calm down a little bit and let us sneak around Cabo Falso.

We’ll be sending daily updates to this website via radio email from the boat, so we’ll let you know how we’re doing. We don’t expect to be very comfortable, nor do we  expect any real problems. Raven is strong and powerful, our engine is reliable, and we have a great crew. We plan to have fun!

But please wish us luck anyway.

Cheers . . . Jan

6 p.m. Tuesday, May 22nd

Yup. 'Baja Bash' is the correct terminology. Every few minutes there's a big CRASH as we drop off the back of an especially big wave and careen into the trough behind it. 'Uphill' is a really good way to describe it.

We left the dock at 7:20 this morning after a leisurely hour grabbing breakfast and doing last minute jobs. Had to wait for the Thunder Boats to get out of Cabo, too, or else risk our lives if we perchance got between them and their fish! Mainsail hoisted with a single reef, and off we went to our date with the dreaded Cabo Falso. And it was indeed fearsome: winds 20 to 28 knots on the nose as we motorsailed into the six-foot waves. Adding in our own boatspeed, we had 30 to 35 knots blowing across the deck as we all huddled in the pilothouse. Lots of whitecaps all around, and three other sailboats -- all much smaller -- attempting the same passage.

But after a couple of hours the winds slacked to 12 knots and the waves dropped off to three or four feet. Much more comfortable motorsailing at about 7.5 knots. Raven drives beautifully to windward this way, with the reefed main strapped down amidships and the wind at about 15 degrees off the bow. It's a far faster way to get to a windward destination than trying to sail upwind with jib and main, as long as you have enough fuel. And we do. At least we hope so. We're taking it easy on fuel consumption early in the trip, just in case.

Oops. Wind's back up to 16 knots and we're pounding into the waves more. Sleep could be a little scarce tonight. Speed is down, too, as the big waves slow us. Each CRASH takes a knot off the speed until we can catch up again. Then another CRASH . . .

Our watch system is set up: each of us has three hours on and nine off, which is pretty easy. Plenty of time to sleep, twice a day. I have 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., Stef has 5 to 8, Lesley has 8 to 11, and Bob is taking 11 to 2.

Lesley whipped up some terrific quesadillas with fresh salsa for lunch, and I've got a lasagna in the oven for dinner (yep, one of the frozen easy-meal treats Signe left us). To that we'll add a fresh romaine salad and French bread. Hmm. Gotta figure out an easy dessert. Dinner will usually be the one meal a day we eat together in the pilothouse. When it's rough like this, meal service works like this: 1) serve salad with dressing in big, deep plastic bowls; 2) collect bowls and utensils and wash; 3) serve lasagna in the bowls; 4) collect and wash again; 5) serve dessert in bowls; 6) collect and wash. Whew.

We're all kind of used to this pounding by now, and we're pretty mellow. Chatting in the pilothouse or reading below to pass the time. It'll take us at least four and a half days to get to San Diego, if all goes well and we don't stop.

Hasta manana, amigos.


6 p.m. Wednesday, May 23rd

This is what's called a weather window. We're lucky and we know it.

Last night was rough through about 1 a.m., with all that pounding I told you about. The wind was up to 20 knots or so, with waves to go with it. We'd drop off the back of a big one and smash into the next. BANG! CRASH! You could feel the mast vibrate and the whole boat shudder. No sleep for anyone.

But then the wind dropped below 12 knots, the waves died down, and all was well with the Ravens. By this morning, the wind was down to 6 or 8 knots and we neared Bahia Santa Maria, 180 miles from Cabo. That's the second bay where the 112 boats of the Baja Ha-Ha rally stopped last November. Big, beautiful, open bay that's easy to enter day or night. We wended our way in and found only two Mexican fishboats and a single sailboat. We didn't even put down the anchor; just floated around for a half hour or so to do some checks and minor repairs away from the ocean swells. Checked the engine and transmission oil, fuel tanks, bilges and pumps, tried to repair a navigation light (no luck; gotta use the backup), taped closed the vent that flew open in the forepeak, and so on. Just the usual small items that arise on passages.

We're now motorsailing on Stage Two, 250 miles upwind to Turtle Bay, under our usual rig: no jib, single reef in the mainsail, lying as close to the wind as she'll go. The engine stays at 2,000 RPM, and the whole package gives us nearly 8 knots almost directly into the winds, with pretty good fuel economy. A great way to travel. The winds are nothing like last evening, only 10 to 12, so we have hopes for a comfortable night.

We had lasagna, a big salad, and French bread last night for dinner. Lunch was microwaved Hot Pockets, but tonight's dinner will be a big step up, courtesy of Lesley. To the melodic strains of Willy Nelson's "Crazy", she's whipping up, and I quote, "Honey Ginger Orange Chicken, served on bed of steaming rice, and accompanied by a medley of stir fry vegetables." We can hardly wait.

My big treat was to take a shower last night before turning in. Unfortunately, I tried it in the forward shower, which was particularly violent during all that pounding. Must have my sea legs, because I'm proud to say I finished the shower and didn't lose my lasagna!

I just came off watch and Stef is up there in the pilothouse now. The watch keeper's job is to keep the boat driving and comfortable, watch for signs of problems in the sail or engine. He varies the autopilot heading as the wind shifts and changes strength. Most of all, though, Stef is watching the radar screen and through binoculars carefully for any signs of other ships or boats. Especially ships, which can be scary. Since we left Cabo, we've seen: an enormous cruise ship, a huge container ship only a mile away (daytime, thank heavens), a tanker 10 miles off, a 150-foot Mexican tuna clipper (cutting in front of us and scaring us half to death early this morning), six sailboats, five sport fishing boats, and so on. Right now, though, we're really alone out here: no dots on the radar at any distance.

We've also heard talk on the VHF radio about a sailboat with fuel problems and one with a severe oil leak that means they'll have to try to sail all the way to San Diego (ugh). We're grateful not to have had any problems so far.

Stef and Lesley have each had plenty of sleep, while Bob and I are short a few hours; we hope to make that up tonight. All of us are keeping our sense of humor and actually enjoying the passage. Plenty of joking and kidding. I'm very pleased to have recruited such a competent, energetic, and amiable crew. Great people to share a seagoing closet with for several days!

Cheers . . . Jan

3 p.m. PDT Thursday May 24th

We can hardly believe our good fortune.

The wind died off to five knots during the night and we've been motoring on glassy seas for 18 hours. We're at Turtle Bay already, while the sailboats we started with have dropped way back and are now well out of VHF range. This weather 'window' has turned into a big set of French doors with balcony and terrace. The overcast and haze evaporated a few hours ago, and Bob and Lesley are reading in the sunny cockpit. We've all had lunch and hot showers and are feeling pretty good.

A little while ago, we stopped the boat again and shut the engine down, just like we did yesterday, to check the engine fluids, bilges, fuel levels and so on. Did the math and found we are ahead of our fuel consumption budget, so we have no need to stop to refuel in Turtle Bay (the ONLY place for fuel between here and Cabo). The unanimous crew decision was to bypass Turtle entirely and just keep on truckin' to San Diego in these ideal conditions. Did I mention how lucky we are with the weather? And how happy we are with Raven's performance?

Since the CRASHING stopped a couple of days ago, the chief entertainment is no longer keeping a good fingernail grip on the berth. Now, we mainly pass the time speculating what we'll have for the next meal, and what messages from friends and families the twice-daily email session will bring. Oh, and reading mysteries and pulp novels. Stef taught Lesley how to play Baja Rummy, even though he's handicapped by the fact that we only have two card decks aboard, and has yet to win a game from her. Bob is working out how to fit 350-gallons of fuel tankage into North Road's 37 feet, and he and I are working on our third book each.

We could arrive in San Diego as early as Saturday morning. Two more nights at sea and it'll be done in just over four days! Thoughts now turn to the delights of civilization. I think we'll all have dinner Saturday at some nice restaurant that doesn't pitch and roll. Lesley is hallucinating about shopping malls and wonders how late they'll will stay open on Saturday.

Your favorite crew is healthy, happy, and lucky. We do miss our families and seeing them will be another reward for reaching our goal.

Cheers . . . Jan

4 p.m., Friday May 25th

Only 167 miles to go, and we've been speeding along at between 9 and 10.5 knots for several hours. We have a light breeze from the southwest that's letting us carry the jib, and we stepped up the RPMs a notch because we're way ahead of our fuel consumption budget. At this rate, we'll get to the Customs dock in San Diego pretty early Saturday morning.

We're about halfway between Turtle Bay and San Diego, having crossed the big Bahia Sebastian Viscaino, the last of the dangerous lee shores on this coast. Only 20 miles offshore now and closing. We'll pass Ensenada in the middle of the night, so we'll be sure to stay at least 10 miles off to avoid most of the traffic. Most of last night the radar screen was utterly blank as you clicked through the ranges: 1.5 miles, 3 miles, 6, 12, 24, 48. Not a ship, boat, island, or rock to be seen. Really gives you a feeling for the emptiness of this region. When Stef came up to relieve me at 5 a.m., I nuked ham and cheese Hot Pockets for us to ward off the cold and the blackness of the night.

Sleep is getting into a rhythm now, and the motion is a lot easier. Just these long NW swells, and no more holding on by your fingernails.

This morning we had a visitor. I had opened a few hatches to air out the interior, and an exhausted little sparrow showed up in the fore cabin. He was flapping around and beating his little head in terror against the portholes and the mirror, so I caught him in a towel and put him out on deck. Right back inside he went! After this happened three times, we closed the hatches, found him a cozy hideout on deck, and gave him a little bread. I'm sure he'll ride with us until San Diego, then disappear there. Hmmm. Should I put him on the crew list?

We're all tired but still in good spirits. Lots of chatter during lunch today in the pilothouse. Bob and Lesley studying the West Marine catalog to decide what goodies they're going to buy for North Road. Another round of Baja rummy is in the works, too. Stef went freezer-diving for a couple of those Sarah Lee goodies we know are deep in there somewhere. As usual, food is our principal entertainment.

Tomorrow . . . San Diego!

Cheers . . . Jan

10 a.m. Saturday, May 26th, 2001

(Sorry about the two-day delay in posting this last report on our Baja Bash. Breakdown in communications. Hope we didn't have you worried.)

We did it in only 100 hours! Tied up at the San Diego Customs dock at 9 a.m. and did high fives all around. Except for the first night it was, as we've told you, an easy passage. Stef, who is going to do the Bash again in his own boat a few weeks from now, is praying for the same weather.

Our last night at sea was full of adventures, especially as we approached Ensenada. The ship and fishboat traffic was dense and our radar had five to eight targets for several hours. Big change from the previous three days when the screen stayed blank. During my 2-to-5 watch, there were two LARGE blobs on the screen that gave me fits. I thought we'd leave them to port like all the other ships heading south along the coast, so I kept heading a little to starboard to give them more room. But they kept coming closer and closer instead! When they were a mere 3 miles away (well inside the danger zone with fast-moving ships), I called on the VHF and got no response. Ulp. So in desperation I made a huge turn to port and hoped they'd go by on that side. Turned out to be two monster cruise ships, lighted up like cities, heading into Ensenada and right across our path! We passed one of them close enough to read the menus.

Soon after dawn broke, no one could sleep and we all showered (thought the Customs man might appreciate that) and got ready for the Big City. Our welcoming committee was a six-engined military aircraft taking off on a flight path two feet above our masthead.

Customs was perfunctory and we headed off to our slip at Kona Kai Marina. Welcomed as returning friends by the manager, we felt right at home. What was the first thing we did? Yep, all four of us went to West Marine, not so much to buy things -- that'll come later -- as to simply walk the aisles and admire all the stuff we couldn't get in Mexico.

Stef flies back to Baja Monday, while Lesley and Bob will spend a few days here making multiple visits to West Marine. We're wondering if Mexican customs will admit a pair of Canucks with eight duffle bags of boat hardware!

Now to all those boat jobs I've been accumulating for months. No more excuses. Sigh. But first, I'm going to fly to San Francisco to see Paul and Michelle, then home to see my sweetie.

Warm regards . . . Jan

PS: Sunday, we all attended a Padres baseball game, just to get back into the rhythm of North America. And today we went out for a terrific sail -- a real one, not motorsailing -- in 11 to 13 knots of nice breeze off Point Loma. Raven showed her usual impressive stuff. Paul & Michelle are coming to visit soon. Life is good.

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