It's Not All Smooth Sailing. Who Knew?
November 18: As the revelry in Cabo came to an end and the 2018 Baja Haha participants began to disperse, it was time for us to plan our own onward journey into the Sea of Cortez. Daz volunteered to run a very chill morning radio net for those of us making the same trek so we could share travel plans and weather information and after a few days at the dock cleaning the boat and stocking up on provisions, it was time to head out.
Our destination for the day was Los Frailes, an anchorage about 60 miles from Los Cabos, a nice day sail given winds were predicted to be 10-15kts. We knew though, that things would get a little choppy in the afternoon as the wind and waves built along the coast as we rounded into the Sea, but the forecast was good and so off we went. There were 6 or 7 boats all heading to the same place and it's always so nice to listen to the radio chatter and know there are others going the same way.
Leaving the marina and heading into the bay, we let out the mainsail with a lovely 10kts on the beam, which we enjoyed for all of about..oh...maybe 10 minutes. Because once we cleared the iconic Cabo arch at the head of the bay, the wind increased to 25kts, the seas picked up to about 5ft and we were all of a sudden on our ear.
Not fun. At all. A deep heel is really uncomfortable and it just makes me feel anxious, not because I'm worried about the boat, I'm worried about me and my clumsiness. As it was Daz was below, the boat was seriously overpowered with all that sail out, I could hear all sorts of stuff crashing and banging below and I'm definitely not who you want at the wheel in a crisis (yes I know, it shouldn't be that way but I'm the first to admit to not being a very salty sailor). We headed up into the wind, reefed in the main, took a few deep breaths and resumed our course. So much for our pleasant forecast, but at the same time it was a good lesson for me in reducing power and regaining control of the boat when something unexpected happens.
As we continued on past San Jose del Cabo the wind swung around from the north, which is exactly where we needed to go of course. We dropped the sail as it was just flogging in the wind and turned on the engine. The seas increased too, very choppy 6ft high waves with a very short period between them. By this time there was quite a bit of chatter about conditions between the other boats, we weren't making any headway as our speed had dropped to about 1.5kts an hour and at that rate we wouldn't arrive to the anchorage for days. At that point, along with a few of the others, we decided to head back and pull in to the marina at San Jose del Cabo.
It would take us a few hours to get to the marina and in this time the wind increased more. We called ahead but the marina had no slips available, however they said we could tie up in their transit area. When we arrived we were dismayed to find this area was a rock wall with boats backed up to it, lines tied to stakes in the rocks and anchors set out front. This is known as “Med Mooring” as it's common in Europe, but with the wind blowing as it was, more boats coming in, the difficulty of maneuvering with all this going on and trying to get lines to the shore it was beyond stressful. Boats were bouncing around like corks and bumping those next to them, one boat sustained major rudder damage from bashing into the rocks and one of our lines snapped. That was it for us, we pulled anchor and got permission to head further into the marina to anchor.
The anchorage was completely full. Simply no room anywhere, but with the winds forecast to increase overnight and more boats looking for shelter, we found a spot to drop the hook but it wasn't ideal as the lack of room meant we couldn't put out much scope. The other boats around us were in the same boat (see what I did there?) with lack of room/scope, so all we could do was keep an eye on things. Nothing was going to improve for the foreseeable future so we got ourselves sorted, cooked some dinner and settled in for what we expected to be a long night.
We set our anchor alarm (this tells us if our boat drags) and went to bed, pretty much fully clothed and not really expecting to get any rest as the wind was howling and the chance of our boat dragging was really high due to our lack of scope. There were so many boats around us, all bucking and bobbing in the wind and chop, a line of boats docked behind us, the noise from the wind shrieking through the rigging was putting us more on edge and we finally gave up and stayed in the cockpit to keep watch.
By one in the morning we were weighing anchor as we were dragging into the dock behind us. It was terrifying with so little room to move, the wind catching our bow and pushing us around, trying to avoid the other boats and also not run over anyone elses anchor chain. We radioed to the marina and told them we were going to tie up to the fuel dock. They weren't happy about that but we said we'd be gone by the time they opened in the morning. By this time other boats were following us, it was just too dangerous to stay where we were. Exhausted, we tied up and fell into bed for a few hours sleep.
By sunrise the wind had died down a little and we had to make a decision, to move on or to try to re-anchor. We decided to move on. It seemed a better option to put up with the uncomfortable slamming of the boat and crazy washing machine-like motion of the sea than to spend another night in that little anchorage. We headed out, tired and a little trepidatious but conditions weren't as bad as the previous day and while still really uncomfortable, we were at least making headway, if not as quickly as we would like.
We made it to Los Frailes before sundown and anchored with no trouble in the lee of Cabo Frailes along with a few other boats. The cape gave us protection from the northerly winds, so the anchorage was calm – so lovely after the bashing we did all day!
A beautiful bay with a long deserted sandy beach against a backdrop of mountainous desert, Los Frailes (The Friars) is the southern most point of the Cabo Pulmo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site protecting the oldest of only three coral reefs on the west coast of North America. There was plenty of snorkelling in Bahia Los Frailes, but by the time we made it to the anchorage we were ready for dinner and bed. We'd had a crazy few days!
As we had a hard stop in La Paz looming, we couldn't stay to enjoy the area as some of the other boats did. Bright and early the next morning we were making our way further north. Overnight the wind had abated and the seas had calmed considerably, so our trip to Ensenada de los Muertes, or Bay of the Dead was uneventful, which was quite fine with us. Despite the name, this was another lovely quiet cove of a long sandy beach, beautiful turquoise clear water and calm seas, just perfect for a gin and tonic on deck as the sun dipped below the mountains behind us. We'd caught up with quite a few of the boats that had pushed on when we'd turned back a few days earlier, so there were about 8 boats anchored for the night.
Next morning we were up with the sun, ready for the last leg of our trip to La Paz. Surprisingly most of the boats had left the anchorage already, some headed for La Paz and others crossing the Sea to Mazatlan. Calm seas and light winds had us motoring into the Ceralvo Channel which was another surprise, as the channel is notorious for high winds funnelling between the peninsula on one side and Isla Ceralvo on the other. Fortunately for us though, with a long day of sailing ahead of us, the weather was kind although we did have to keep a sharp eye out for fishing nets strung across the channel.
As the sun was setting we pulled into Marina Costa Baja, refuelled our boat, found our slip and tied up. Hungry, tired and covered in salt along with everything else we own, we found our way to a marina restaurant, fairly inhaled dinner and a few cocktails, made our way back and fell into bed. We slept long and hard and I pitied our dock neighbours, I can't even imagine how horrendous the snoring must have been from our boat.
The next few days were spent getting the boat cleaned and put back together, exploring the marina, attending one final Baja Haha wrap up party and finding our way into town. We'd be based here for a while as we caught up on work and we also had some fun travel plans over the next few months, the first of which was Daz's trip to Ohio and Philadelphia to see Lauren and Breann for Thanksgiving!