“Bashing to Windward,” Cold and Wet, Low on Fuel, and “Otto” Dies

Zero.  Zilch. “Goose egg.” Cero. “No Mas.”  Those last two are obviously in Spanish and the last one coincidently fits nicely since it’s the name of the stalwart vessel that made all of these sagas possible.  Be all that as it may, you get the idea . . .  This is sailing saga “last” and will bring closure to the (hopefully) exciting adventures of Our Hero and his occasional crew.

Yes.  The Captain is still alive and well even though the absence until now of another sailing saga chapter might have led you to conclude otherwise.  Much has happened since saga chapter six that chronicled the highlights of Our Hero’s cruising time in La Paz and the Sea of Cortez that lies north of there.

Now is the time to fasten your seatbelt and enter a mental state of profound patience:  the second of which is critical to enduring the mind- and body-numbing tedium of bashing into wind and waves when going up the Pacific coast of Baja, Mexico and California.  The rough water and blowing spray were not conducive to photography since Our Hero and intrepid crew, Nathalie, were focused on sailing the boat to the greatest advantage and not subjecting a camera or a smartphone to such hostile conditions. Thus, there are no true “Baja Bash” photos; even if there were, they would not adequately capture the true experience since the photos would be two-dimensional.

Enough blathering and folderol.  Onward!

When last we left Our Hero, he was in Marina Palmira in La Paz and awaiting the arrival of crew-member Nathalie.  She arrived as planned and a team effort for provisioning and boat prep worked well.  By the way, Nathalie volunteered for the long haul from La Paz to San Diego in order to experience the east coast of Baja (La Paz to San Jose del Cabo), the west coast of Baja (San Jose del Cabo to Ensenada) and checking in to the U.S. at San Diego.  All of these are very valuable experiences that can’t be duplicated any other way.

No Moss left the marina on Tuesday (26 Apr) and made the short run to Puerto Balandra.  Granted, 11 nm is not any great distance, but this short leg made the next one to Bahia de los Muertos doable in all daylight.  Entering an anchorage at night (even one that is familiar) is to be avoided if at all possible.

Puerto Balandra was not its usual benign self.  It was a rolly anchorage that made getting a good night’s sleep next to impossible.  Thus, getting up early and leaving the anchorage before seven in the morning was eagerly accomplished just to reduce the motion of the boat.

The ride to Muertos wasn’t much better.  Little wind and residual wind waves made for a rolling ride, and even a counter-current at the south end of the Ceralvo Channel made the day less than ideal.  The Captain and Nathalie had their fingers crossed that the anchorage would offer better conditions.  There’s nothing in the log book to state otherwise, so one must assume all was well.

The leg to Bahia de los Frailes (Bay of the Friars) was short on wind and thus long on motoring.  The counter-current was our nemesis again.  It slowed our speed to the point that what should have been about a nine-hour run was actually over two hours longer.  Fortunately, we did get the anchor down and set before dark.  The sunny skies of La Paz gradually have morphed to a high overcast, so the picture of the shoreline seems rather somber.

There was actually enough wind for a “downwind” sail during the last few hours on the way to Puerto los Cabos Marina; sailing with only the jib unfurled, we managed to hit 6 kts from time-to-time.  This made for a “short day” and was a welcome break for Our Hero and Nathalie.  However, the high overcast persisted and little did either of us know that this was a harbinger of weather to come for the rest of the cruise.

Up to this time, the dinghy had been stowed inflated on the forward deck in the event that a shore trip was desired.  From Puerto los Cabos Marina all the way to San Diego (maybe even as far as home in Redwood City), no shore trips were expected where the dinghy would be required.  All the stops would be short ones and/or there would be nothing ashore to make a such an excursion worthwhile.  The exception would be Turtle Bay (a little over half way up Baja), but there a “water taxi” of sorts is available.

This fact, coupled with the need to have a relatively clear foredeck to improve safety, ease of access to the pulpit and the anchor, plus reduce wind resistance, spurred The Captain to deflate and stow the dinghy in its bag on the foredeck.  Teamwork paid off again and the task was accomplished most effectively.

Our Hero and crew departed Marina Puerto los Cabos on Tuesday (2 May) to start the first leg of the Baja Bash:  200 miles in two days to Bahia Santa Maria.  That certainly was optimistic . . .

Everything went well for about five hours until turning the corner at Cabo Falso (just northwest of Cabo San Lucas).  As forecast, the wind picked up to 13 kts out of the northwest (the direction one heads in general for the entire length of Baja to Ensenada) and the seas began building.  The wind direction plus wind waves on top of the swells forced The Captain and crew to tack back and forth across the desired course, thus making much less progress than a straight course.  The Bash was on!

Even with the wind easing some at night, what should have taken two days ended up taking almost four.  The only consolation was a period during day three when the wind shifted from NW to SW and we could actually sail with the engine off, full main, and 3/4ths of the jib unfurled. Ultimately, No Moss arrived in Bahia Santa Maria 26 hours later than the planned time.

This resulted in Our Hero’s first time anchoring in the dark at 0535 in the morning!  That is never a good situation, but using the GPS cross-checked with the radar, the anchor lights of a few other already-anchored boats, and the sound of surf breaking on the shore (Yikes!  Are we that close to shore?!), we set the anchor and shortly after found it very easy to fall into an exhausted sleep.  Cocooned in a down sleeping bag in the aft cabin, Nathalie had earned her “crew rest.”

All that extra time and motoring resulted in burning more diesel fuel than planned.  Now the question was, “Do we have enough to make it to Turtle Bay?”  Turtle Bay was 245 miles away and the thought of having adverse wind and waves the whole way was cause for concern.  Running out of fuel was not an option.

It was going to be a close call.  Getting fuel here would be a good thing, but fuel is not available – usually.  A conference on the VHF radio with three other cruising sailboats anchored nearby resulted in the following discoveries and action:  one of the boats needed fuel more desperately than No Moss; someone saw a pickup truck parked on the beach near the fish camp (truck = transport to a gas station?); so we decided to make a foray to shore to see if a local fisherman could be persuaded to make a fuel run to the nearest gas station.

Three guys plus Our Hero went ashore in a dinghy and hiked more than a mile to the fish camp.  To make a long story shorter:  we found the fisherman with the pickup truck; he agreed to take our diesel jugs to the nearest gas station (70 miles away!); but he wouldn’t do it until tomorrow and then bring the fuel back the day after that.  A three-day delay would potentially mean bashing to Turtle Bay when the winds were much less favorable.

The hike to and from the beach where we left the dinghy required that we cover some pretty dry and rough ground (e.g., hiking down into arroyos and then up the other side; it definitely wasn’t a walk in the park).  From the dirt track one could look off to the bay and see the boats anchored.  No Moss is the small dot on the right in the background.

The next day after the “fuel hike fiasco,” Our Hero was busy with boat projects such as repairing the mainsail headboard attachment.  While I was so occupied, Nathalie enjoyed a dinghy excursion with Nikki and Dave (s/v First Date) whom we had met before back in Marina La Cruz.

Four days after anchoring in Bahia Santa Maria and having decided to go without additional fuel, The Captain hauled up the anchor at 0641 in the morning and Nathalie steered No Moss out of the bay and turned NW into the gray and wave-graced Pacific.  The overcast persisted for most of the day with wind on the bow.  Again the combination of wind and waves required tacking to make “progress” and resulted in adding time to the passage.

We didn’t make it to Turtle Bay as planned.

Just before dark on the third day when we should have been anchored in Turtle Bay, we were 54 nm short of that goal, really low on fuel, and the winds were up to 17 kts.  Another night at sea in those conditions was not a smart thing to attempt with fatigue setting in for Our Hero and crew.  So, we anchored in Bahia Asuncion.

This turned out to be a good decision for more than one reason.  First, it was a calm anchorage and we could get much-needed rest by spending a “day off” there.  Second, we found a local gentleman, Juan Acer, who runs a hotel and is a great friend to all cruisers who anchor off the town of Asuncion.

Cutting to the chase . . .  A phone call to Juan – his English is excellent – resulted in the following:  a fisherman friend of his stopped by the boat and took me and the diesel fuel jugs to the beach; Juan met me on the beach with his pickup truck and drove to the nearest gas station (about a mile away) and back to the beach; his friend then returned me and the fuel jugs to No Moss.

This is a classic example of how friendly and helpful Mexican locals can be.  Initially, neither Juan nor his buddy would accept payment for their help, but I was able to prevail and both ended the morning with 200 pesos (about $10) in their pockets.  They had some unexpected pocket money and I had fuel.  Everybody was happy.

A little after ten that night, The Captain hauled up the anchor and we were off on an anticipated 12-hour leg to Turtle Bay.  Waiting until late at night was planned to allow the daytime 20-25 kts of wind to drop to 10 kts or less.  The winds did as expected and the final 54 nm to Turtle Bay was an eleven-hour motor-sail.

But, there was one significant problem.  The electric autopilot (“Otto”) died.

Otto is an essential piece of equipment for safety reasons.  He steers the boat when motoring and allows Our Hero and Nathalie to be on-watch but not steering the entire time.  This greatly reduces fatigue especially when conditions are rough and windy, and on a course that takes one directly into both.  Now, we would have to hand-steer (this is not good) for the rest of the way to San Diego – the first place where a replacement could be obtained.

A two-day break anchored in Turtle Bay allowed time to rest, refuel, and buy some minor provisions.  Checking weather using the satellite phone and what we could access with the local cellular phone tower resulted in a less-than-ideal forecast.  The next leg to Bahia San Quintin would start out with unfavorable winds (no surprise) but might ease the next day.

Monday morning (16 May) we were motoring out of the Turtle Bay anchorage which is a little more than half the distance between Cabo San Lucas and Ensenada.  Weather was as forecast until approaching Punta Eugenia and the right turn to head mostly north along the coast of 22 nm long Isla Cedros.  The next three hours (until in the lee of Isla Cedros) produced winds over 20 kts with waves on the port side that would hit the boat and send spray flying.  Fortunately, it eased as we motored along Isla Cedros.

Let’s see.  What kind of weather hasn’t hit so far?

If you said rain, you are right.  Motoring along the north half of the island, we gradually lost the clear skies as overcast and low clouds streamed our way with dusk and nightfall.  After dark, the wind was up to  22 kts and whipping drizzle in our faces.  The Captain and Nathalie were cold and wet (only on the outside, the foul weather gear worked fine) at the end of each one-hour watch.  One-hour watches were the order of the day because we were hand-steering the whole time and that is very tiring especially in those conditions.

That was a long night.  However, by morning the winds were light but the overcast skies persisted.  The mainsail was up yet provided little drive due to the wind direction.  Our Hero was so focused (and tired?) that he neglected the morning ritual of sunscreen application, and paid the price.  Even with overcast skies, the solar radiation from above and that bouncing off the water resulted in a red face (and not all of it from embarrassment at the oversight).  Consequently, the next three or four days required drastic sun protection measures.  The Captain had no choice but to do his “Blue Man” impression to “save face” (pun intended).

Only the day was spent in Bahia San Quintin.  The wind forecast for the next leg to Ensenada amounted to “go now before the winds get stronger,” so we did.  We left the anchorage before seven that evening and arrived in Ensenada about 24-hours later after another cold and damp (dew this time, not rain) night at sea.  Our Hero and Nathalie were finally back in “civilization” with only the leg to San Diego remaining for her.

Wasting no time the next day, we obtained the all-important “zarpe” from the Port Captain’s office.  The zarpe is Mexico’s “okay, you can officially leave now” document.  Of course, the ironic part is that when entering the U.S. in San Diego, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers never ask for that.

A little before nine that night, No Moss left the Ensenada breakwater behind as we headed out for the overnight run to San Diego.  It was mostly uneventful.  Winds were pretty much as forecast but the seas were lumpy and made the ride somewhat rolly with an added “hobby-horse” component (the bow rising and falling frequently).

At 0753 Saturday morning (21 May) we crossed the U.S.-Mexico international boundary and The Captain lowered the Mexican courtesy flag.  By 1058 we were tied to the San Diego Harbor Police dock and undergoing the CBP inspection required to enter the U.S.  To comply with the agricultural regulations, Nathalie had to give up the fresh fruit she had purchased in Ensenada.  After paying the $27.50 entry fee, we left the dock and headed down San Diego Bay for Fiddler’s Cove Marina.

To show his appreciation for her hard work and unrelenting support during the bash, The Captain treated Nathalie to brunch at the Hotel del Coronado.  In addition, he gifted her with the Mexican courtesy flag that had flown from the starboard spreader for the entire time she was aboard.  She now had proof of her accomplishment:  a “brag rag” of sorts that she could fly from the spreader on her sailboat (Bon Vent) back in Portland.  Our Hero realized this was not an entirely fitting thank-you gift, so later he sent her a very nice sea bag.

Nathalie flew back to Portland, OR on 23 May.  This left The Captain to single-handedly sail (of course, you know by now that means mostly motoring) from San Diego back home to Redwood City.

Ah, I knew you’d ask . . .  What about the busted autopilot?  Would he hand-steer all the way up the California coast?

No.  Our Hero was able to get a new rotary drive unit and installed it while still docked in Fiddler’s Cove Marina.  It would have been a VERY bad idea to head up the coast singlehanded without a working autopilot.

Just before seven in the morning on Monday (30 May), The Captain left the dock in San Diego for the day “sail” to Oceanside.  The day started off with the typical no wind AND what the SoCal coastal dwellers refer to as “May Gray” or “June Gloom.”  In other words, it was overcast with even occasional misty drizzle until near the San Diego airport.  The wind gradually made an appearance after rounding Point Loma but wasn’t enough for setting the jib until off Point La Jolla.  The rest of the leg was uneventful and ended tied to the dock in front of the Jolly Roger restaurant in Oceanside harbor.

The next day was the start of the overnight motor-sail to Marina del Rey.  June Gloom presided virtually the entire time and the wind never got above five knots.  The boredom of continual motoring was broken twice:  a passing U.S. Navy hovercraft, and later by a radio call to the LA/Long Beach Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) at one in the morning to advise that I was crossing the inbound/outbound lanes for commercial shipping.  Fortunately, there were no ships in the vicinity; there was no conflicting “traffic.”

From Marina del Rey to the next stop, Channel Islands Harbor, was a ten-hour run under June Gloom skies with fog and winds on the bow.  Consequently, tacking was needed to make progress from Point Dume to Point Mugu where the wind finally backed enough to allow flying the jib and actually getting some drive from it.  But, the motor was needed to make timely progress.

A day off in Channel Islands Harbor was put to good use with provisioning at the nearby Ralph’s supermarket and hiking to the fuel dock twice to top off the boat’s tank and the jugs.  Fog crept in late in the day and left a misty aura that shrouded the local “dinner cruise paddle-wheeler” as it passed.  The waterway was pretty narrow and it seemed impossible that the vessel could turn-around, but somehow it managed.

The next leg was an overnight from Channel Islands Harbor to Morro Bay.  This leg included rounding the infamous Point Conception – often referred to as the “Cape Horn of the California Coast.”  This is appropriate because the prevailing NW winds and current collide with this protruding point, compress as a result, then increase in speed as happens to any “fluid.”  The portion from Channel Islands Harbor to Point Conception is westbound in the Santa Barbara Channel which is usually fairly benign.  When one turns NW at the point, that’s when it all goes to hell in a handbasket.

Our Hero suddenly realizes that he has been remiss in providing an adequate picture of The Captain’s “uniform of the day” when sailing in the cool waters of the Pacific coast of California.  For the nighttime passage around Point Conception, and any other (non-tropical) night passage for that matter, you can envision this attire.

Leaving Channel Islands Harbor at 0758 in the morning on Saturday (4 Jun), No Moss motored resolutely toward Point Conception under overcast skies with light winds varying from SE to W.  Fog was a constant companion and visibility varied from as little as 1/8thmile to better than 4 miles.  Needless to say, the radar was on and getting a lot of attention to avoid vessels that could not be seen visually.

Visibility improved after rounding Point Conception.  It was easy to spot the oil platforms that were ablaze with lights.  The price for that improvement was more wind and waves on the bow, but not bad enough to require tacking.  Yay!  Thus, the entire leg to Morro Bay could be considered quite tolerable with arrival and docking at the Morro Bay Yacht Club about two on Sunday afternoon.  That’s Morro Rock in the background.

Okay, so what does one wear when day sailing?  Dressing for day sailing in essentially the same conditions requires only a few changes.  Lose the headlamp and the heavy jacket, swap the clear lens glasses for sunglasses, and add the neck gaiter.  The end result looks like this.

Overcast.  Arrived under it, and departed under it.  The overnight motor-sail from Morro Bay to Monterey held virtually no change in weather.  The winds were from the usual undesirable direction of NW, but at least they were ten knots or less.  Waves were from the same direction, but not big enough to slow progress by punching into them.

The only problem encountered was the seaweed that wrapped around the wind vane steering rudder.  Since that rudder is mounted off centerline to starboard, it doesn’t get protection from the boat’s keel.  Thus, seaweed that passes along the right side of the boat will often get caught on it.  The downside is that creates drag and slows the boat.  The only way to remove it is to slow (or stop) the boat and pull it off with the boat hook.  It’s wet, time-consuming work that fortunately doesn’t have to be performed all that often.

Arrival in Monterey at ten the next morning was a pleasant surprise as the Breakwater Cove Marina turned out to be a very nice place to stay.  Forecast winds of 20+ kts were expected for the next four days, so The Captain with all due respect for Mother Nature – and no desire to do any more “bashing to windward” – elected to spend the time comfortably tied to the dock.

Breakwater Cove Marina is located between Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row.  The distance is easily walked and offers a lot of options for dining, plus a Nob Hill supermarket for provisioning.

No Moss was not alone at the visitor/service dock.  Ahead was a 47ft sailboat awaiting haul-out and loading on a truck for transport to Lake Lanier in Tennessee.  Behind was a large fishing boat that awaited the return of its crew from “shore leave.”  Fortunately, it wasn’t going anywhere during my stay at the dock, otherwise No Moss would have to move to let it out.

The water quality (and thus clarity) is excellent in Monterey – no wonder someone decided it was a great place for an aquarium.  While tied to the dock, I noticed that while there was no seaweed wrapped around the wind vane rudder, that was not the case for the boat’s propeller.  With this conglomeration of seaweed around the prop, it is amazing that I got any drive from it.  No wonder I had to increase the rpm to keep the same boat speed during the run from Morro Bay.

The next leg was about a 12-hour run to Pillar Point Harbor (Half Moon Bay).  The “weather window” was open (i.e., the forecast was favorable) for an early morning departure on Sunday (12 Jun) to assure arrival before late afternoon (or nightfall) when the winds would ramp up again to the 20+ kts range from the NW.

Our Hero knows the value of a weather window, so he was up before dawn and motoring past the Monterey breakwater at 0500.  The forecast wind from the SE was a welcome break from the usual NW wind and waves.  There were wind waves from the S that conflicted with the prevailing swell from the NW, so the ride had a rolling component, but the mostly-filled jib provided some drive and helped dampen the roll.

During the day the wind built to 12 kts but gradually eased to light and variable about one or two hours before entering the Pillar Point breakwater.  No Moss was tied in a slip by 1830 that evening – almost “home.”

One more weather window (less than 20 kts from the NW) was needed before the final passage from Pillar Point Harbor to SF Bay and Redwood City.  However, the forecast said that window was four days away, thus allowing Our Hero to leave No Moss for three days to go home (about 30 minutes by car).

Back on the boat the afternoon before departure, The Captain prepared the boat for the last leg.  That left little to do before casting off the lines and leaving the slip at 0734 the next morning.  No wind with broken clouds accompanied Our Hero as he motored NW toward the entrance to SF Bay.  Look closely at the picture and you can see him standing on the foredeck and enjoying the view and the calm conditions.

Abeam Pacifica, the clouds dissipated further so that when turning right off Point Lobos, the sun was shining, the visibility was excellent, and the Golden Gate Bridge was majestic in the distance.  The breeze was fitful and light, so the sails would have provided no extra drive.  Motoring under the bridge required a higher than normal rpm setting for the engine in order to fight the outgoing tide.

Passing under the bridge was accomplished in virtually ideal conditions except for the lack of a good sailing wind.  Decision time was at hand: stop now and spend the night at the Presidio Yacht Club in Horseshoe Cove, or continue on to Redwood City and hopefully arrive before dark.

The unknown factor was how much the outgoing tide would slow progress.  Knowing that there were more daylight hours at this time of year, Our Hero elected to press on.

As it turned out, No Moss was safely and finally tucked in a slip at Westpoint Harbor in Redwood City at 1735 on Thursday (16 Jun).

The cruise was over.

(Stay tuned for the Epilogue . . .)

Ed: Neal Doten is a member of The Club at Westpoint and an active boater. In addition to these delightful travelogs, Neal provides advice and guidance to boaters undertaking coastal cruising especially those looking for adventure on the Mexican and Central American shorelines. Read about his educational program here. You can contact Neal by completing the contact form below.

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If you have edits or ideas, please contact info@TheClubAtWestpoint.com

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