You all may reacall I was moving a 40′ Leopard sailing cat from Panama to Washington. We pick up the adventure as we depart PuertoVallarta, headed across the beautiful Sea of Cortes for Cabo. Onboard is our core crew, owners Paul and Sheila and myself.
We fueled up and got out early in the morning. It’s about 300nm from PV to Cabo, across the entrance to the Sea of Cortez. I’ve crossed with 15 footers rolling out of the sea but this time it was nice and calm. Early 0n in the ‘crossing’ we did a little sailing, odd for a north bound trip. We even spotted some turtles, south of the prison islands, the Tres Marias.
Our destination was San Jose del Cabo. It’s a little east and north of Cabo. It’s more quiet, less expensive and closer to the airport. We got parked and dinghied over to the main dock. While the kids got us checked in and rented us a car, I got a shower. They had a new bar there next to the office. It was called the Container Bar and, you guessed it, it was cut out of a big shipping container. They had done it up real nice with a grill and everything. I got a message from Robin at the Lats office that our friends on the fishing boat Scrambler were in SJC. I looked around and spotted one of the Scrambler shirts. I walked over and said hi to Frank. Frank and the boys had been killin’ it down there, pulling in Tuna after Tuna in the over 200 pound category. He pulled out his cracked Iphone and showed me some great pictures.
You can’t sail around southern Baja without a visit or two to Cabo San Lucas. We hopped in the car and made the trek to town. Cabo has changed a lot over the years. It went from a sleepy fishing village to a brothel for ‘El Norte’ sport fishermen, to it’s recent incarnation, a nicer resort/timeshare city. The best thing about a spot like Cabo is that you can get boat parts. And we were desparate for some pieces to keep the Volvos running. On the way back to sleepy SJ we stopped at the Costco for some consumption abuse, Us style.
We prepped the boat for what would likely be the harshest leg of it’s long adventure up to Washington.
It is over 700nm from Cabo to San Diego. Ideally we only make one stop on that trip at Turtle Bay, a little more than half way up. That first leg to Turtle is over 400 nm so you want to get as much fuel in the boat as possible and take it at the last possible fuel dock. That dock was back in Cabo. We had a nice sail down to Cabo. The intense sea traffic started about a mile out. Cabo is Sportfish central. Add all that to the tourist boats and jet skis and a few cruisers and you’ve got some traffic.
We ducked and dodged and slid into the fuel dock sideways, just aft of a big Perini Navi. We had come a long way together and docking had become second nature. When we were close to a port the kids would whip on lines and fenders. We would discuss the plan. I would get one of the swimsteps close and Paul would step off. Sheila would hand him the spring line that he would make fast to the dock. He would signal me and I would pivot in the ends of the boat so they could secure them. Well, almost that smooth. With two fuel tanks and 16 five-gallon jugs all full we headed out to start our slow, rough slog north.
But it didn’t start out rough. We left busy Cabo with a few sunset cruise boats to port and nice vacation villas on the cliffs to starboard. A couple miles on we left them all behind. The water turned glass smooth and the sun set quietly over the orange horizon. This was a clean start. I told the kids to not get too excited.
I was awoken on my off watch, in the dead of night, by the words, “We’re really close to this boat”. Those are words that should never be spoken with the rules we had in place. We were well beyond the point where I needed to be consulted on every boat seen. We had advanced to the stage where I was to be consulted when there was any doubt. I arrived on deck as we passed close astern to a mid sized fishing boat. I went back to bed figuring my words would be more measured after breakfast.
Magdelena Bay might be your first stop if you want to see a beautiful spot or haven’t rationed your fuel well. We had had a fast perfect leg to that point over oddly smooth water, very lucky. To celebrate our crossing the entrance to Mag Bay a whale breeched off to starboard, all the way out to it’s tail. Knowing that the smooth conditions couldn’t last, we topped up the tanks with a few fuel jugs while we could.
That version of the Leopard 40′ had two 40 horse diesels. It was way overpowered. We only ran with two motors when parking. At sea, even against current we ran with one motor. In flat seas the boat would easily reach hull speed with one motor. When the chop would kick up and the boat would slow down we would still be going as fast as we wanted to. With all the catamaran banging I didn’t want to break anything by pushing her harder.
As it does, the wind kicked up to over 20 kts. A little swell was generated by the winds and the bangfest began. With the added pressure of the wind and chop, the starboard motor started to heat up. We switched over to the port motor and I found the impellor was down to two and a half fins. Impellors to fit Volvo motors were one of the things that we were not able to find in all of Latin America.
Our last day before making it to Turtle was beautiful. It had calmed some and we had a clear view of the best of baja, drifting by to starboard. We pulled into Turtle Bay in the evening and we took a free mooring off of Anabell’s, just to port as you come in. They are so nice there. Rueben and his son-in-law fueled us up first thing in the morning with filtered fuel from their own bright green, mini fuel barge. Then they offered to give us a lift into town.
And sometimes you just get lucky. It was the town of Turtle Bay’s 60th aniversary. Turtle is a great place but it is a dusty little Mexican town, far removed from … anywhere. But that doesn’t slow down the locals. They are very proud and put on the best aniversary celebration that I have ever seen. There were costumes and floats, booths and games, speakers and mariachis. There was a new king and queen crowned every year, and this being a new decade, all the old kings and queens had to dress up and attend. It was all on and it was a spectacular event.
We departed that evening, as the afternoon breeze started to lay down. There were whales everywhere. We went inside the island of Cedros and popped out the top … to smooth water. I had never seen it smooth there. I celebrated quietly inside myself, careful to not let the sea know that something was amiss.
But the wind did come on that next day and blew hard. I saw a chance to get a break from the mean chop by shooting up inside the Sacramento reefs – sinkers of ships and cruising boats alike. But we ran into one of the shortcomings of cats. They won’t go into the big wind/bad chop combo, no matter what you do. I used to stay out and bang it out all night but, thankfully, I’ve outgrown that. I turned tail and we ran 12 miles back to San Carlos. An hour and a half later we were anchor down in a beautiful, calm spot.
We were very close to the states now but the weather turned worse and kept us in port. We spent the next day gleefully parked in flat water as 30kt gusts whistled through the rig. To kill time I pulled apart the starboard heat exchanger and found a couple impellor pieces clogging key channels. Yep, if you are missing an impellor fin, make sure you find it. For fun, Sheila made brownies and we enjoyed movies and coldies all afternoon.
That night I walked out onto the bow. The town generator had shut down and all the fishing shacks were dark. I looked back over my shoulder to see our array of cabin lights and big screen TV aglow. I remembered back to my trip up this coast on my little Low Key. I knew I’d be sitting under the warm glow of my oil lamp, reading some adventure book. Was one experience better than the other? Maybe.
Our weather reports indicated that the weather was going to break soon. We picked a time that would put us at the reefs with some light. At 0400 we tried to leave. The bow roller on these cats is not on the bow, it’s back toward the middle of the boat. To ease tention on the chain you have to motor into strong wind. Not being lead from the front, the boat tended to pivot allowing the chain to come up and grind on the hulls. It was not a clever design. It took us about an hour but we got the chain up, and with the morning land breeze, we sailed out. The breeze whisked us quickly up through the reef. It was eirie sailing with land to starboard and breaking waves to port.
And I spent more time in the engine rooms, nursing the motors to just get them to San Diego. About mid day we started to smell rotten eggs. It didn’t make sense, Sheila kept the boat immaculate. I’ve had that smell on boats when I haven’t pumped the head in a long time (the life in the seawater dies eventually). I learned another very important time that that smell comes up. One of our big house batteries was failing and heating up. The worst thing you can have on a fiberglass boat is a fire. They say that if you don’t get a fiberglass boat fire put out early you won’t be able to, it burns too hot. I re-wired the batteries taking the offending one out of the loop.
We cruised into Ensenada putting the worst of the Baja behind us. We fueled up and took a slip at my favorite marina, just north of town, the Coral (say: corral). It felt good to have made it so far on less than perfect motors. We headed right up to the salon to get our showers and then headed into town. Unusual for Mexico, you can do a whole check out in one building! Then it was lunch and a coldy at my favorite roasted chicken place where a never ending train of mariachi groups plyed for our business.
After departing the 22nd chandlery that didn’t have the impellors we needed we headed back at the boat. At 2200 we got underway to have a morning arrival in San Diego.
After two months of Latin American adventuring, we cruised into the busy port of San Diego and tied up to the Customs dock.