Dolphin in the bow wave.
Late April 1999: I return
to Driscoll's Boatyard to find Steve and Cisco loading supplies for the trip. Departure
is imminent, but dozens of last minute details remain.
The push to get through the Panama Canal and north
out of the Caribbean before June 1
also meant some items had to be deferred until the trip got underway. The first leg, a 740nm run to
Cabo San Lucas, will surface any weaknesses. At a speed of just below 12 knots,
the trip will take around 64 hours, and the plan is to drive straight through. We'll depart late Sunday morning,
which will give us a daybreak arrival into the
Los Cabos, Mexico area.
Comings and Goings
We did a shakedown run Saturday, filled the
fuel tanks, then buttoned up for the departure Sunday. The shakedown showed
problems in the navigation components, so we scrambled Saturday night to retool
to an IBM PC/Garmin 48 GPS /Maptech system. We're still not hooked into the autopilot, and have to set heading manually and correct
periodically for drift. This is an adequate way to make the entire voyage, but we'll revisit
the system in Cabo San Lucas. We had some more chart work to do, the final food run, and
many small last minute items, but it was time to move on.
Steve works into the fuel dock
The Bunker Hill arives San Diego
A submarine slips into San Diego bay
We slipped lines Sunday at 9:15 a.m,
passing the inbound aircraft carrier Bunker Hill returning from 9 months at sea.
The compliment of 3000 sailors might partially offset the drop in the
local economy caused by the Kaitlin's departure.
Our trip was shortlived, however, as we soon learned that the stabilizers weren't
working and returned
to the dock, this time passing an outbound submarine. We got the stabilizer system repaired
by late afternoon, and once again put to sea,
this time at 6:15 p.m.
A few miles south we crossed the border to Mexico, pushed past
the Islas Coronadas, and into the gloom of the night. The trip had finally begun.
We eased into a routine for the trip. I'd
man the bridge most of the day, with occasional breaks, where I'd navigate, keep the helm tended,
and work electronic issues. Steve and Cisco worked the long
list of chores below decks, a familiar area for them. At midnight we'd go into two hour
watches, until daybreak. Sleep was fitted around the watches until midmorning, when everyone was back awake.
On this trip one immediatly notices how cold it
is compared with the same latitude on the east coast. The water is 54F with colder spots. The air is slightly
warmer than that during the day, but chills quickly at night and jackets and bridge heat are required.
This remained true until the bend in the route at Cabo San Lazaro, around latitude 24
(below the Florida Keys if on the east coast),
where a slow warming trend began.
I'd left a steamy Florida and was bound for the even hotter tropics, so had only one
set of cold weather clothing. I wore it 8 consecutive days.
Also noticed is the starkness
of the shoreline. Big cliffs of brown rock
rise starkly out of the ocean, with great depths right up to the cliff.
Kaitlin at anchor at Turtle Bay
Most places on
the shoreline are unapproachable by boat or by swimming. The surf would
just pound you into the cliffs.
Monday broke cold and gray, and the 5 foot
seas we'd departed in were clearly building and shortening up on our stern. By
midafternoon seas were running 10' and we'd sometimes swing through 60 degrees before the autopilot brought us
back on course. We also decided we had a insufficient fuel to make the complete leg, so plotted
a new course, to Bahia de Tortugas (Turtle Bay), the only fuel between San Diego and
Cabo San Lucas, and only 330 miles into the voyage. We arrived at 10:30 p.m., where entrance was
uneventful, despite being a strange inlet at night, and in a big surge. We anchored up and waited for
Refueling is exciting in Turtle Bay, since you can't tie up to the dock. The drill
is to anchor the bow off and swing the stern back perpendicular to the dock and toss lines
up to the dockhands. The fuel hose is then retrieved back to the boat using the heave
lines. It would have been a real challenge in the 25 knot winds broad on to the beam, but some
sort of midmorning lull diminished the winds and we fueled in a temporary calm.
The fuel stop was a false alarm, but a mixed blessing. We learned we hadn't burned as much
fuel as we thought, but then we didn't carry as much as advertised either. The saddle tanks were
542 gallons, not 750. We could have made it
to Cabo San Lucas, but we only carried 2200 gallons, not 2400 as we thought, which will be meaningful
when taking on longer legs later. Since the winds
built to near gale force, the stop saved us a lot of grief. The right result for the wrong
reason. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.
Kids play soccer near Turtle Bay pier
That afternoon boats began filling the small bay.
Interradio scuttlebutt announced that
the winds were building and seas would reach 12' overnight. We decided to lay over until
Thursday morning, then resume the trip. We went ashore in a local panga, toured the town, ate
the tacos del carne with cold cerveza at the pink Vera Cruz hotel at the top of the hill, and
returned to the Kaitlin to ready for the next leg.
Wednesday broke clear and windy. We raised
anchor at 7:45 after the last hot meal we'd see in a while and headed out of the bay
to begin the 408 mile leg remaining. Seas were down to 6-7 feet and still on our starboard quarter.
By afternoon they'd swung around to nearly astern and we'd surf down the front with a gain
of a several knots briefly.
The final run
We set night watch and marched on down the coast, making
the last course change at Cabo San Lazardo at 2 a.m, finally S/E and inbound on the 180 mile leg
to Cabo Falso, before rounding up into Cabo San Lucas harbor.
Rounding this cape brought a very noticable change in local environment. Besides getting some shelter from the
now north wind, we also got into a warming trend in the water, and a change in sea life.
Waters warmed gradually from 54F to nearly 74F in 15 hours, and we were frequently surrounded by
dolphins swimming in the bow and stern waves. We also saw two whales, either pilot whales or
false orcas, many more birds searching the waters for food, and one of the ubiquitous seals
surfing in our wake.
Cisco takes the helm
By 5 p.m. we were rounding
the now familiar arch at Cabo San Lucas, and found slip space at the Baja Marina, near the
inlet passage. Cabo had heated up since my last visit, and was 84 degrees. We tied off, and headed
for shore. Tomorrow the owner would fly in and we'd go fishing.
Latitude 22+ and still dropping.
To be continued.................