Subject: baja bash

Passage from La Paz to Ensenada, Nov 1-19, 2009

For those who maybe interested, what follows is a description of my fifth (and last, by God) trip from La Paz to Ensenada. 
Disregarding two previous aborts, one for chain plate failure and one for cat hair in engine air filter, Sue, Gary Webb, the abominable cat (Sue's, not mine) and I left La Paz for Ensenada on 1 November 2009.  We did the first leg, from La Paz to Cabo San Lucas, a distance of 155 miles, in 23 hours, carrying a working jib, reefed main, and mizzen. It was a fine sail. There are a few interesting anchorages along the way but doing as well as we were, there was no temptation to stop. We stopped in Cabo San Lucas to purchase five gallons of diesel and left after 45 minutes, which is as much time as anyone might want to spend there.
From Cabo, going north along the Baja Coast, there are no places to put in. That leg is also 155 miles and ends at Bahia Magdalena (commonly called Mag Bay). When we left Cabo, and rounded the dreaded Cabo Falso (it is renowned for wind on the nose and south flowing current.), running as close to the beach as we dared, there was almost no wind. We continued with the reefed main and working jib, motorsailing along the coast. Things were doing well. 

But when  we came abeam of Pt. Tosca, at the south end of Mag Bay, and with only 20 miles to the entrance to Mag Bay, the wind picked up to about 20, on the nose. Some six hours later,  having motor tacked to the entrance, and after sunset, we finally made the entrance. Actually, darkness is not a problem for entering Mag Bay. The entrance is wide and deep and can be negotiated with either GPS or radar, or both if one needs more assurance.
Once in the bay, and out of waves and wind, and also cold, tired, and wet, we opted not to run another five miles up to Man o' War cove but chose to anchor at Pt. Belcher, which is only a mile or two from the entrance. Anchorage can be taken in 25' of sand, either side of the point. Excellent shelter. A hot meal and to bed.
Next morning, we contacted "buoyweather" on the SSB. The forecast was unfavorable, just a continuation of what was encountered the day before. So we motored up to Man 'o War cove, anchored again in 25', sand, about 50 yards off the beach. We had been there several times before; it is one of our favorite places. The village is tiny. Probably the population is not over 200 and is supported by fishing. A desalination plant is there, courtesy of the Mexican government, so potable water can be obtained. The port captain is Sr. Gregorio, an old friend. Real helpful for just about anything. On previous visits, we would spend several days there, enjoying lobsters, clams, fresh tuna, hike the beach, and occasionally get a panga ride to San Carlos. 

But time to move on. A buoy weather forecast wasn't great but appeared doable and we left. MIstake! That leg lasted a little over 25 miles before the northerlies forced us into Bahia Santa Maria. This is a large and beautful bay, untouched by anything. Anchorage was taken behind the point at the north end of the bay, well out of the seas but exposed to wind. From here we were able to get a pretty good internet connection to San Carlos, about ten miles east. Calling up the SailFlow site gave an unimpressive forecast. Northerly winds, 15 to 20 were predicted for the next 48 hours. This was discouraging news. The crappy forecast was in agreement with buoy weather. Basically, no windows. 

Next day, a southbound friend came in. Their report, of seven to eight knots from Bahia Tortuga (Turtle Bay), running under a cruising chute and a reefed main, was so contrary to what we were experiencing that it was almost irritating. But a gift of wine, bread, Chef Boyardee's ravioli, compensated. For those who turn up their noses at Chef Boyardee's offerings (we do), there are mitigating circumstances, like getting off watch at 0200, cold, wet, tired.
After three nights in Bahia Santa Maria, another "so-so" forecast was received. As before, it looked doable. Turtle Bay was less than 300 miles. Underway at first light, motor sailing under working jib, reefed main, mizzen, with weak NE breeze. It is quite common along the Baja coast to find a light NE early in the morning. On my first northbound trip, I was well snookered by this breeze, believing it was the breeze of the day. Soon discovered that it veers, getting weaker until it comes NW and gets stronger. It followed that pattern on this day but we continued, pretty much able to maintain five knots  By next morning, there was no NE breeze, just an increasing NW. And by early afternoon, it was clear we would not be able to hold our track to Turtle Bay. Fell off and headed for Pt. Abreojos which we reached late that afternoon. It was windy by that time but once in the lee of the point, seas were minimal and we anchored. 
The village, which has no visible means of support, is miles from any other civilization. Yet there are buildings, a hotel which apparently caters to surfers, both wind and wave. and a cellphone tower. It is clear why this place is popular with surfers. the surf was huge. We were able to make an excellent, though low data rate connection to the internet. Calling up SailFlow, the forecast looked great for an early departure to Turtle Bay. Next morning, at first light we were under way. There was no wind at all; we motored with only the reefed main set for stability. 
Running through the night and all the next day, we raised the entrance to Turtle Bay just after sunset. This entrance, though not as easy as Mag Bay was familiar. Using radar to identify a handfull of anchored, but unlit boats, we set our hook in 40', kicked back, ate, and went to bed. Up early the next morning, we reanchored about a hundred yards from the one and only, very decrepit long wharf that provides fuel, water, and a sort of water taxi service. 
Turtle Bay is another favorite place for us. The harbor provides excellent shelter from all but SW winds. Such winds are rare, except for storms. In storm conditions, locals have reported breakers over the wharf. The wharf is some fifteen feet above the water!
Once anchored, we raised the wharf on the radio, a panga came out and took us, along with our empty jerry cans, to one of the decaying ladders by which the wharf proper is accessed. At the beach end of the wharf, is a small tienda operated by old friends Rogelio and his wife Elise. The tienda deserves description. It is a sort of shack whose roof is made from palm fronds. In front of the tienda is a table made from a cable drum, several chairs carved from palm trunks, and a large collection of shark teeth, whale bones, skulls of cows, some enormous and almost perfectly round rocks, etc.....Once completing the greetings to family and friends, we drank a beer or two, enjoying the ambience. There is something about this place that is incredibly soothing. The water laps up on the beach, children and dogs wander about in a spirit of perfect amiability, we gossip with friends in broken Spanish/English. A very few cruisers are in, most southbound but one or two northbound boats. We exchange sea stories.
The town, whose population is supposedly around 5,000, supports itself through fishing, primarily shrimp, lobster, and sardines. There are no paved streets but the highway which runs from Turtle Bay to Vizcaino, is about 100 miles. It is paved for about five miles at each end.  I have traveled it twice, in order to reach an ATM. A van leaves Turtle Bay at 0200 and arrives at Vizcaino, which is on Mexico 1, the main highway from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas. The trip takes about four hours. From Vizcaino, a real bus can be taken to Guerro Negro, where there are two banks.
A good internet connection to SailFlow painted an unpleasant picture. Winds along the coast were forecast as 15 to 20, northwesterly for the next two or three days. But this did not really distress us. We enjoyed being in Turtle Bay and took advantage of the delay to get showers (the first since leaving La Paz), topping off fuel, provisioning, wandering through town, enjoying low cost meals, and in general, just enjoying the pleasant weather and sunshine. But finally, a weather break was projected. With a little over 300 miles between here and Ensenada, it was time to go.
Departing as usual at first light, we headed out of Turtle Bay for Ensenada. There was little or no wind,as predicted, and we motored on at about five knots. At Cedros Island, about fifty miles ahead, is a decision point. The island, about 20 miles long, can be passed on either the east or west side. Since there was no wind, we passed along the east side. By sunset, we were just past the northern tip of the island and the wind had come up, from the NW. Now motor sailing, we fell off a hair. Through the night, the wind had gradually increased and by morning it was a steady fifteen and gusting out of the NW. Not only were we taking a beating from wind and chop, the south flowing California current which seems to strengthen in the bay of Vizcaino further reduced our speed over the ground, sometimes less than 3 knots. No real conferences were necessary, Bahia San Carlos lay some forty miles ahead and by falling off the wind and using the engine, we could make it before dark.
By late that afternoon, we were within three miles of Bahia San Carlos. We had shut the engine down a few hours earlier, as we were doing quite well without it. I went forward to drop the jib and as I did so, Gary called me and said the autopilot had quit. Not a real problem, we could just as easily sail hand steer in. But we started the engine and I began fiddling with the autopilot. A moment  later, the engine quit. No problem, it was still light and we had enough wind to sail in. While Gary handled the boat, I began on the engine. It didn't take long to find the fuel line plugged up, between the tank and the transfer pump. The inside of a salvaged Morse control was exhumed and an attempt to clear the blockage with this stiff wire was undertaken, with no success. So I cut the feed line at the tank valve, found another fitting for the transfer pump, and ran a diesel hose which replaced the plugged copper line. Had this all done within a few minutes of dropping the anchor.
It was still light and the autopilot problem could be addressed. Because I am a recognized electrical genius, I immediately diagnosed the problem as a failure to energize the drive clutch. Repairs would necessitate removal and disassembly of the drive unit, no trivial task. Meanwhile, Gary, who is not an electrical genius, asked why the drive motor was running but the sprocket gear wasn't turning. Broken roll pin. As it turned out, a fair amount of dissassembly was necessary to access and replace the broken roll pin. We finished putting in a new roll pin by 11 that night but were too tired to reassemble the roller chain and wires to the quadrant. Next morning, as soon as it was light enough, reassembly of the steering gear was completed and tested. It looked like we were ready to go. But when the engine was started, I noticed the oil pressure was down to 30 psi. Cold, it is usually around 45. Stopped it and checked the dipstick. We were half a quart over the full mark and it stank of diesel. This was bad news. Diesel can get into the crankcase a number of ways, most commonly through a defective lift pump or less commonly, a defective seal on the injector pump. Unsure of where to begin, the lube oil was pumped out of the crankcase and replaced with fresh, along with a new oil filter. (A note of warning: I have had the seal of two Fram filters stick in the oil filter housing. You find this out, if you haven't checked, after you put in a new filter, start the engine, and begin spraying lube oil at forty psi.) Anyhow, the engine was started, oil pressure was normal, but the cause of diesel in the crankcase unknown. After half an hour of running, the oil pressure was at the normal hot value and a lube oil level check also normal. Still, a bit uneasy about this. So underway again with an agreement to heave to at Punta Baja for another engine check. All was well. Why? Could the plugged fuel line have in someway caused the engine driven fuel pump to push diesel into the crankcase? Unknown.
Leaving Punta Baja for the last leg to Ensenada,  (We had passed inside Sacramento Reef), we reached a way point a mile or so west of the point before turning north. After executing the turn, our speed over the ground was down to a knot. There was no wind. Evidently, the south flowing current is very strong here. We probably should have realized that by looking at the streaming kelp. The solution was to close the beach as close as radar, sounder, and GPS plot permitted. A few hours went by, speed was back to 5.5, sometimes 6.0 knots, and all was well.
Again, we ran through the night, raising Pt. Colnett at first light. I had never seen the south side of this point before; it is spectacular, with almost sheer cliffs more than 300' high running eastward for a mile. From here, nothing noteworthy. We raised the entrance to the bay (Punta Banda) at sunset and were alongside in Cruiseport at 2130. So ends the trip. 897 miles in 18 days. Ugh!

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