Setting out pass the LA Harbor lighthouse into a mounting storm on Sunday November 21 with a new volunteer crew was sure to test each sailor’s mettle. Answering my Crew Wanted listing on Cruisers’ Forum, Adam flew in from Illinois, Garret and Min flew across the border from Ontario Canada and Phil rode the train from Flagstaff Arizona arrived on H-Dock where the INNcredible Sea Lodge was ready to set sail for my annually Downhill Hill Run 1200 miles to La Paz. Adam actually came a day early to lend a precious hand going up the mast for a good look and some preventative maintenance. Checking in to their assigned cabins, followed by some boat orientation, dinner and a good night’s sleep, the crew’s dreams of what they signed on for were about to be realized.
The weather showed chances of rain and southerly winds in our face for our first leg to Ensenada. We could have delayed a day but…
Leaving early Sunday morning our Downhill Run would start with motoring into head winds with partly cloudy skies. Each crew member medicated themselves with sea-sickness meds in anticipation of personal probabilities. I have been lucky enough to not succumb to such feelings so far since I step aboard this INNcredible Sea Lodge in June of 2012 in France. As usually the predicted light winds and 20% chance of rain lasted for an hour or two.
By afternoon the clouds dominated the sky and the winds increased setting up for a Bash. An already chilly day turned chillier as cloudbursts drenched whoever was on watch. As night fell we had the Pacific Ocean to ourselves, no one else choose to Bash into this storm, except for a couple 1000 foot cargo ships. Our 130 mile first leg to our mandatory check-in point took only a little longer than planned because by 0400 the wind started clocking around. With head sail let out with two reefs we were motor-sailing up to 7.5 knots until the winds slowed after sunrise to only 15+. By 1330 Monday we had squeezed into our slot at Cruz Port Marina and were out of the Pacific as the storm blew and dumped its last buckets of water throughout the day.
The next morning we were first in line to get officially cleared in to Mexico. And by 1500 we raised our sails in hopes to catch the new winds coming from the NW. The winds got a little squirrilly around dusk but finally started to fill-in as the black starry skies surrounded us. Our 4-hours on / 4-hours off watch schedule was about to really settle in as we headed overnight for San Qintin. The plan was to stop at San Qintin, Los Benitos, Turtle Bay, Bahia Santa Maria, Cabo San Jose, Los Frailes, Los Muertos, Playa Bonanza finishing at Marina Costa Baja in La Paz. With such light winds predicted we were sailing with full main and head sail and making modest speeds under sail.
Then the winds freshened. We began scooting along. You could feel it. One glance at the instruments verified that with 7-8 knots flirting with 9+ on occasion not counting surfing down swells. The wind was pushing into the mid 20s which would have been reefing time but we were downwind sailing wing-on-wing and reefing would be quite a chore bring in the head sail, turning up into a rambunctous sea state in the dark, motors would need to be on to assist. I didn’t want to do it so I watch intently the apparent wind, never exceeding 15 knots. When the winds would spike 25+ the boat would accelerate but the apparent wind would not. I was satisfied just to harness all this speed and keep going.
We past San Qintin without stopping, then two nights later we blew past the Benitos without stopping. We rode that wind right into Turtle Bay only because I wanted my crew to experience somewhere along the Baja coast and I was ready for a good night’s sleep too. And oh yes,the weather report warned of a bigger blow was coming. So we took refuge for two nights but not two days. I didn’t want to wait for calm, I want to sail.
So out we went, this time with a conservative 2 reefs in the main hoping for more wind. One of those ‘wouldn’t you know’ moments, those big winds must have passed through already so we sailed along at 4-5 knots for a good while. Shake it out? Or not? Not too fast, just hold your horses and let some time pass. Keeping the reefs in lets me sleep a little better off watch. Before long the winds picked up and we sailed our way to Bahia Santa Maria in a respectable 38 hours.
Bahia Santa Maria was packed (relatively speaking) with a fleet of 8 fishing boats, a navy ship and 8 cruisers, all tucking in to get out of the building winds and seas. Watching to see if any boat made an exit to get back out there, seeing only one, we weighed anchor by 1000 the next morning, hoisted our sails and scooted out of their toward Cabo. Another double over-nighter ahead of us and already three days ahead of schedule, where we’d stop next was up for discussion. But once around Land’s End and heading North everything changes. I wanted to get a weather report past Land’s End to see what the Sea of Cortez was up to.
Rounding Land’s End at 2000 on 11/30, already motoring into those pesky North winds, I decided to take hopeful advantage of a little lesser winds during the night hours and power it all the way to Los Frailes. That would put four days ahead in the bag for what-ifs. Anchored by 0500, everyone went back to a calm sleep. With the whole day here to swim, snorkel the good reef and explore before a full night’s sleep, we were up and moving by 0600 the next morning. Heading up the Sea of Cortez for Los Muertos, getting an early start is most often a good thing.
With yet another Norther predicted, Muertos had 8 cruisers already anchored when we arrived. Coming and going, Muertos is both a stop to get out of the swells and a launch point for those heading across the Sea for the mainland like Mazatlan or PV. Two nights and one full day here and while most everyone else was sitting tight until calmer conditions I said let’s go at 0600 hours and head for Playa Bonanza at the bottom end of Espiritu Santo.
There was good reason to stay as the skies were dark and squall after squall were passing through bringing gusts of high winds and dumps of rain. We paid the price and bashed our way up the Cerralvo Channel. But ti was worth it to get to beautiful Playa Bonanza.
next morning it was time to head for our final destination – Marina Costa Baja in La Paz. I didn’t say much about fishing, actually I haven’t said a word about fishing on this trip. We started out fantastic with two Big-Eyed Tuna five minutes apart a half day south of Ensenada – then nada. Pulled in a Bonita, actually a tasty one but that was it, even past the land of the Mahi Mahi/Dorados. So as we were approaching Costa Baja I was a little disappointed overall with the fishing. Then Adam reeled in a handsome Sierra and that put some icing on a great Downhill Run aka my 1200 mile commute.