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
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
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?
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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