A Tranquilo Baja and back
Honestly, if I’d understood the nature of the brain-tickling test for Covid-19, I might have hesitated before agreeing to having it done. But the four of us had agreed that as incipient Tranquilo crew, where we would live in close quarters for about two weeks, we should do what we could to protect each other’s health. That doesn’t mean we didn’t bring a lot of potato chips.
Tranquilo is a Catalina 445 and her new owner, Mike Haden, was anxious to sail her from Channel Islands harbor to Baja and back. Mike’s original plan was to participate in the BajaHaHa but that was cancelled this year due to viral concerns. Instead Mike had signed up for the NadaHaHa, a socially-distant flotilla that would follow the BajaHaHa route without the beach parties: San Diego-Bahia Tortugas-Cabo San Lucas. One crew member, Greg Carlsen, a mutual friend of Mike and George, had no sailing experience, but was enthusiastic and, it turned out, a great cook. Mike’s childhood friend and SBSPS member, George Poe, invited me to be the 4th crew member, and with some concern over schedule and possible get-home flying travails, I accepted.
The list of preparation tasks seemed, alas as usual, to grow as items were checked off. How can one be ready for anything that might happen? And, as anyone who has sailed far knows, almost anything can happen. Meanwhile Covid 19 news was not encouraging and the prospect of either being on the boat for the many weeks it would likely take to get Tranquilo to Cabo and back, or of flying home from Cabo, became less appealing. In a crew conference call, I voiced my concerns and after some discussion, it was agreed we’d sail as far as Bahia Tortugas, and then head back. We estimated we’d be gone two weeks.
The plan was to depart Channel Islands Halloween Saturday, which meant that in order to get Covid test results, we had to be tested earlier, Monday and Tuesday. Unfortunately, the day after he had his test, Greg had coffee with a friend who subsequently developed the dreaded symptoms and then tested positive. Now what? Saturday departure couldn’t happen, but if Greg could be retested successfully, we could leave as early as Monday. Greg repeated the brain tickler, and on Monday drove to Ventura for the more reliable antibody test. Both tests came back negative and with sighs of relief we left the dock Monday afternoon. Our plan was to check-in at Ensenada and then sail south….
Day 1 (2 Nov 20)
1430 – Arrived at Tranquilo in Channel Islands with George. Mike was waiting for us, and Greg appeared with our food stuffs soon after. By 1700 Tranquilo had left her slip and we headed out of the harbor for sea. Wind was light so we motor-sailed. Greg served Nachos for dinner. George and I shared the 1st watch from 2100 to midnite… We took the less-traveled route between Santa Catalina and San Clemente Islands….
Day 2 (3 Nov 20)
George and I had the 0300 to 0600 watch. Lovely and welcome sunrise – they almost always are at sea! Mike and George estimated we were burning close to one gallon-per-hour. As we approached and passed Pt Loma and San Diego, we were witness to US warship 20 making high-speed maneuvers, pretty impressive for a 500-foot vessel, and only a few miles from us. By midafternoon we had our first sight of Isla Coronado. Greg elected to serve us a tasty dinner of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. We entered Ensenada Naval harbor at about midnite, and were secured in our visitor slip shortly after.
Day 3 (4 Nov 20)
Our goal was to check-in and depart as quickly as possible. The marina had agreed to act as our agent, but as often happens in Mexico, we had to go downtown to clear immigration. The marina drove the four of us there, and three of us stood outside for an hour or two while Mike was inside getting us cleared. Almost everyone wore masks, as did we. By 1435 we were back on the boat and the marina delivered our papers. By 1500 we were headed for the Pemex fuel dock across the harbor at Marina Coral. The service guy at the fuel dock recognized the boat–he’d seen it several times before under its previous ownership. By 1600 we were headed out and then SSE for Bahia Tortugas. We motor-sailed through the night.
Day 4 (5 Nov 20)
My 0300-0600 watch (solo now) was rewarded with the lovely rise of Venus, climaxing with a gorgeous sunrise. I could feel mental tugs from my sextant…. George’s French-Press, fresh ground coffee was a morning treat. By mid-morning we were sailing wing-wing with the genoa poled-out to windward. We were still sailing at dinner when Greg served spaghetti with red sauce and baked acorn squash. Yum!
Day 5 (6 Nov 20)
Again, my 0300-0600 watch was rewarded with the lovely rise of Venus, and another glorious sunrise. Just past noon (Mountain time now) we caught our first sight of Punta Eugenia, just beyond Isla Natividad above Bahia Tortugas. It was a lovely day to do laundry and shower on the transom. As we neared our destination, Mike’s trolling hand line snagged a medium sized Skipjack Tuna. After anchoring at about 1600, we enjoyed a fresh sauteed tuna meal, with onion rice.
Day 6 (7 Nov 20)
Just before 0800 we were visited by the ubiquitous Enrique in his panga, and we asked for 40 gallons of diesel. While we waited for Enrique to return, we siphoned the fuel from our eight jerry cans into Tranquilo’s tank. Soon thereafter, Enrique arrived and refilled the jerry cans. We estimated we had enough fuel to make it back to Channel Islands, or, in event of NW winds, at least to Ensenada. The view from our spot in Bahia Tortugas, aka Turtle Bay, looks directly to the South, and I took the opportunity to shoot the sun on and off from about 1100 to after 1300. Local area noon was 1144. My reduced sight gave a position within about 12 nautical miles of our GPS position; not too bad for a rusty user with an old lifeboat sextant! (I had some regret that I didn’t bring a better sextant.) Greg treated us with a tri-tip and risotto dinner, after which we watched the one and only movie (thank goodness) Captain Ron. I slept in the cockpit under the stars and planets; Mars overhead, Orion and Sirius to the South, and Saturn and Jupiter setting to the West (where else?).
Day 7 (8 Nov 20)
Mike was still working out the bugs in his Iridium Go! Satellite receiver, via which we were hoping to obtain marine weather forecasts. So, in the meantime, I fired up the boat’s Icom 802 SSB/Ham transceiver and listened in to the Bajanet. The forecast was for a moderate to strong front to pass along with up to 25 knot NW winds, and even more of a detriment for heading north, large and growing seas. My sailing mentor and friend, Dave Wyman, was watching the weather and texted a similar forecast of strong weather coming our way, with seas up to 15 feet! The crew subsequently decided to delay our departure to Tuesday morning (10 Nov) by which time conditions were forecast to be easing. My cockpit sleeping experience ended with a sudden wee-hour drenching as the cold front moved through. Not too surprising in hind sight!
Day 8 (9 Nov 20)
As we swung on the hook in Turtle Bay, I listened to the Baja and Sonrisa nets. Their forecasts, and Dave’s, hadn’t changed, so we waited. Various options for a return route were discussed, and, based mainly on the weather forecasts, we decided an early next-day departure was reasonable and that sailing north West of Isla Cedros was our best option.
Day 9 (10 Nov 20)
At 0400 we pulled anchor and headed into the blackness, south and out of the bay before we turned to the NW. It was bumpy and there were no meals served, and not much talking. We sailed close hauled, 40-45 degrees off the wind, using the newly acquired 100% jib that Mike bought for the purpose. With a reefed main were able to sail with reasonable weatherly progress into 25 to 30 knot winds, and seven to 12-foot seas. A typically uncomfortable Baja bash….
Day 10 (11 Nov 20)
The highlight of my 0400 to 0700 watch was the rise of a crescent moon followed by Venus, and a red sunrise. Sirius was to the SE approaching her zenith, and Polaris was on the bow. I was able to take sights of the moon’s lower limb, and Sirius, but due to the boat motion, dimness of Polaris, and no sextant optics, I wasn’t able to bring down the North Star. Still, good sights were obtained for a reasonable two-body fix. As the day advanced, the bump gave way to a gentler swell and we enjoyed some pleasant upwind sailing. Our plan was to make Isla San Martin, off San Quintin, and anchor there for a night. Unfortunately, as we approached the island around midnite, the depth sounder began to indicate startlingly shallow water; less than 20 feet in some places where we should’ve, according to the chart, have had hundreds of feet below us. We slowed the boat and headed off shore figuring it’d be safer to anchor at the island after it was light.
Day 11 (12 Nov 20)
We were anchored before 0730 in the ‘alternate’ anchorage at Isla San Martin, just outside the lagoon. Mike and Greg went down for well-earned naps. While George and I lazed in the cockpit, a fishing panga stopped and with sign motions, offered us lobsters. We happily accepted, and soon had a bucket of them. But the fishermen refused payment! Before we could gather gifts in return they were gone with smiles and waves, as suddenly as they had arrived. Lesson: have give-away stuff at hand. We considered going ashore, but then Dave sent a weather update: another stronger frontal system was headed our way that night! After brief discussion, and only about five hours at anchor, we were on our way, SOG 6.7, COG 332T. We took advantage of the calm conditions to transfer fuel from three jerry cans to the main tank. Dinner was–you may have guessed–sauteed lobster tail on rice.
Day 12 (13 Nov 20)
My watch was a bleary one between 0130 and 0400. We had Ensenada some miles to starboard at 0220. SOG 6.5, COG 340T. Several boats detected in the darkness, one on radar but not AIS, the other was a fishing boat that I could see, but there was no AIS or radar signal (scary)! We motor sailed all day.
Day 13 (14 Nov 20)
Another 0130 to 0400 watch, now in California waters. We saw a lot of naval activity between San Diego and San Clemente, as well as several freighters as we approached Santa Catalina. It was calm outside Channel Islands so we transferred the dinghy from deck to davits, and traded the small jib for the genoa. By 1300 Tranquilo was home in her slip, engine off. We were home,
The brain-tickling nasal swab had been worth it!