Monday, November 07, 2011

Baja Haha 18 - An Adventure!

This story begins with a phone call that would drastically change the direction of the 18th annual Baja Haha.  The skipper and his wife had been delayed in their departure from Sausalito.  Their Islander 36 had required more time and money to bring her up to snuff for the journey to Cabo San Lucas and beyond.  They would have to sail nonstop to San Diego to make the start of the race.  The phone call came just 12 hours before my departure by plane to meet them in SD.  Lanea was on the line saying they were stuck in Monterey with big waves preventing them from safely heading south. They were bummed because they would miss the Haha.  They would still head south but would be 5 days or so behind.  I told her that I would head to SD to try and find a boat regardless.  I wished them good luck and set my sights on a new boat.  After all the boat shuffling I had seen in last years haha, I was confident I could find a spot without much trouble.

I arrived in SD mid afternoon and headed for the docks of Shelter Island.  I would hit as many boats as I could before sunset.  The police docks were the first place to look.  I hit a few boats there and if after a knock on the hull and no one was onboard, I would leave a note with my name and number.  On the fifth boat, I was introduced to captain Pat.  He had built this 67' schooner with his bare hands, from trees in his back yard.  She was solid as a rock and had a crew of 9. He told me if I could not find another boat, he would be happy to have me on board.  That was a great option if I could not find another spot.  From there I headed over to the San Diego Yacht Club to continue my search.  I was able to talk my way past the guard at the gate and hit the docks.  I ran into some additional boats but everyone was fine on crew.  There was a buzz at the club and I spoke to someone who mentioned it was the first induction ceremony into the Sailing Hall of Fame.  Schlocum, North, Connor, Cayard, Turner and 11 more were being honored.  How cool is that?  I struck out at the club so headed to dinner at a local eatery.  After dinner, I had a hot tub at the Kona Kai where I was staying and then hit the hay.

Next morning I started with a swim and complementary breakfast.  I rent a much too small for me bike and head out in search of more marinas.   I heard a bunch of boats were at Cabrillo Marina so I headed that way.  All Haha boats carry a green Haha burgee near the spreader.  As I head into the marina I begin to see 20-30 of these burgees.  I make the rounds and speak to the skipper or leave a note.  By mid afternoon I have a few possibilities but nothing firm.  There is a gathering at 1630 of the Haha folks.  I decide to go have lunch and then return.  Upon my return, I  meet most of the skippers and no one has an opening.  By now I have knocked on about 50 hulls with no luck.  This is turning out to be much harder than I expected.  I needed to get the bike back before 6 so off I went back to the hotel.  The baseball playoffs were on and so I headed to the bar.  There was a birthday celebration going and I became part of the 90th birthday celebration.  After cake and talking to a few of the guests, I headed down to the hot tub.  A few boaters showed up and we had a great time with boat stories.  Keen was 20 and heading to Australia with his dad.  Chris was getting away from the Alaska cold.

Next mooring I swam and jogged and then enjoyed another nice breakfast in the restaurant.  My plan was to head to the skippers meeting with a sign the front desk gal made for me, do you need crew?  I was standing right at the entrance of the meeting and no luck.  The meeting was about to begin, when I got called over by the assistant Poobah and the phone was thrust into my hand.  Brian was on the line and they had just splashed a project boat back in the water and were looking for two crew.  What kind of boat, I asked.  A 55' steel cutter called Go for Broke, was the reply.  They are heading to the party and will find me there.  At 2:30 they show up and we get acquainted.  Steve is the owner and Brian is the first mate.  The boat is not in perfect shape but she is ready for the trip.  I introduce them to Adam who is also looking for a spot.  They agree on both of us and off we go to do some last minute provisioning.  Our driver is a saint of a guy who is Adam's cousin.  He has a big truck and room for all our gear.  We head to the boat to load it and settle in for the night.  It takes a good three hours to get organized and clear room for my stuff.  I will have the v berth which is not in the best shape but it will work.  The saloon area is unfinished and is filled with boxes and books.  The galley is working and cramped as they just installed the stove.  We hit the bunk at 11 and settle in.  Next morning is the start of the Haha at 11am.  We are up early as we have to get to the starting line from the Coronado area.  We make it back to the police dock and meet Adam for pick up.  Off to the starting line we go.  There is little wind, so the race begins as a rolling start, meaning everyone can motor.  There are 170 entries and 150 boats at the starting line.  I am very happy to be on one of those boats!  We head south in the fog and light winds.  The boat is huge and very heavy.  Did I mention it was 44 tons?  Most boats of this size would be half that.  I have never heard of a boat for recreational sailing that weighs this much or even close. The boat was built by a survivor of the WW2. His regiment was known as "Go for Broke" and they went on some very dangerous missions with a GFB attitude.  After the war, one of them suggested a round the world voyage on a sailboat.  The survivors agreed and he went to work on building a strong safe boat for his friends.  However, by time he finished 8 years later, all has friends had passed on or were too fragile to take the voyage.  So he set off by himself to sail the planet on GFB.  Here is some history and a video on the boat.  Click here.


With the start at 11 we are on the line and moving south.   We are motor sailing with just the main and moving at 5 knots. We set 4 hour watches and I have the 4- 7 slot in the morning and evening. My first watch is uneventful as the autopilot is doing the driving. In the evening the wind comes up and we unfurl the genneker for a little more speed.   The wind is currently at 12 knots. I hit the sack after a nice thai chicken meal prepared expertly by Adam.   My watch came up and the stars were amazing. Jupiter was off to starboard. Had a nice sunrise and then after my watch we lazed in hammocks as the wind was light. Later in the day a skipjack was on the line. Brian prepared an excellent meal that evening.


I come out for my morning watch at 0400 and it is blowing in the low 20's.  Adam is ecstatic as the speeds have been in the 8+ range.  I take over the helm and the boat is still driving us forward on our heading.  The wind is fluctuating a bit but for the most part strong.  About an hour into the watch, the boat speed is down in the 2's and she has rounded up.  I turn off the auto pilot and get control.  Back on course, we continue to hit the mid 7's and an occasional 8. The wind settles down about mid morning and we are back to motor sailing.  My issue is that I don't feel like I am sailing until the motor is turned off and the boat slids effortlessly thru the water.  I will have to make some adjustments for this trip!

My Wednesday morning watch begins beautiful with lots of stars but soon turns cloudy.  By day break, we have rain in the cockpit.  What is going on?  After sunrise, it begins to clear and some squalls begin to roll thru.  The wind is in the high teens.  We are finally sailing.  The boat speed is 5-6 and we are seeing some nice swells.  During the day the wind stayed in the low 20's and we were moving right along. Little did we know that closer to shore, the fleet was taking a pounding.  Some boats reported waves of water in the cockpit.  Terrible conditions and survival sailing.  Weird how we can be near the same area and have nothing close to those conditions.

My morning watch on Thursday begins at 0400 and we are getting close to our destination and the close of the first of three legs.  Adam has been plotting our position on the chart every 30 mins. And we are looking like a sunrise arrival.  Adam is a master with the chart and getting bearings off other boats and such.  It's great to have him at the chart table taking care of the nav work.  Several boats in the area, but the wind is light and we are moving at about 4 knots.  We finally bring the boat up to 1800 rpms at daybreak. By 0730 we have the hook set and the hammock up.  We have mimosas in the cockpit to celebrate our arrival along with banana pancakes.  We head to town on the dingy to get a shower and food.  We have lunch and beers then head over to the baseball game.  See some folks we know and then after take in Vera Cruz for dinner.  Take a panga home and it is very difficult to find the boat but after 15mins, there she is.

Today is the beach party and we are ready.  At noon, Adam and I take a panga to the beach.  We are some of the first to arrive.  We help set up the volleyball net and have a nice afternoon on the court and meeting more folks. They also host a potluck and we have a feast with lots of fresh fish from the fleet.  We finish out the afternoon with a walk to pick up trash and then head to the boat for dinner and a glass of wine before sleep.  My wife is texting the world series update every inning and I am passing the news to the fleet via VHF.  Cardinals win the World Series!

We are up early for departure.  The winds are light again and so we are motor sailing.  I usually take a nice nap before my watch.  Upon waking up we are more than 20 miles from the coast.  Adam is refreshing me on chart plotting and it really helps to have a big table in the cockpit to work off of.  My watch is uneventful and dinner is excellent with a fresh tuna pasta dish.  We are eating well.  I go to bed around 2000.

My morning watch is starry and beautiful.  I put on the Neville brothers and rock out with the sunrise. I am enjoying having music on this trip.  We had none last year.

After breakfast I rig up my hammock in the bow.  My butt is in the dinghy which stops me from swinging with the boat motion.  I think I have the most comfortable seat in the fleet.  During my afternoon watch. I decide to cook the meal as well. We start with some sausages and finish with a salad and chicken.  I hit the hay early to be ready for my morning watch and the entrance to Bahia Santa Maria.

At 0400 we are very close to the entrance. In a few hours we will have the anchor down.  After breakfast I go for a swim in this lovey bay.  I talk to another boat called Distant Drum and they jump in too.  The water is delightful.  Upon my return, I speak with the skipper and we decide to throw a party in honor of Halloween.  We put the word out and folks are excited.  We spend a good portion of the day getting the boat in ship shape.  At 7:15 we have our first of fifty guests arriving.  Folks are very interested in the boat and we are doing tours and retelling the history.  We have a great group of folks aboard and we have a blast.  One gal couldn't get a ride over so she swam to the party.  Marlee is her name and she is a hoot.  I make it to 0100 and the party goes to 0300.

We are all a bit hung over in the morning and I spend a few hours in the hammock.  That did the trick.  We head to the beach party and more good times ensue.  Lots of friendly folks and the food and band are awesome.  No volleyball at this spot as the tide is too high.  Bummer.  The weather is perfect.

Back at the boat, Marlee joins us for dinner and a movie.  Life Aquatic with Bill Murray.  I am beat and go to sleep around 2200.  Next morning we are up at 0530 readying the boat for departure.  Winds are very light and we motor sail slowly towards Cabo which is about 150 miles to the south.
The wind stayed light all day.  It was warm and sunny as we headed towards our destination.  Brian catches a 40" dorado and dinner is prepared on the grill.  After we watch a documentary called Endgame.  I hit the hay about 2100 to get some rest for my last watch of the trip.

Up on watch at 0400.  Stars were out and Jupiter was looming large.  I went up to the bow and sure enough we had 6-8 dolphins playing in the bow wake.  With the bioluminescence trailing them it looked like something out of Tron (1st one).  As I was enjoying the daybreak, a flying fish flew right into my crotch.  I picked him up quickly and threw him in the water no worse for the wear.  We had a beautiful sunrise and then my last watch was done.  I really enjoyed the 4-7 watch as I got both sunrise and sunset. Now we are less than 20 miles from Cabo and the finish line.
We made it to Cabo at 1730 and dropped the hook.  We made it.  It was a great trip.  Loads of friendly folks, great weather and good times.  For our heavy boat, there was not much wind as we needed 20 knots to get her going.  The wind was 8-12 most of the time.  I really enjoyed our crew and that's what made this trip so memorable.  Here's a toast to Steve, Brian and Adam!

 Adam as Popeye

 Santa Maria Party

1 comment:

laneariley said...

Sounds like a fabulous time! So glad you found such a great boat :)