San Diego to Cabo San Lucas - Baja HaHa Oct. 27 – Nov. 7, 2003


The Baja HaHa is a loosely organised cruiser’s rally from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas in three successively shorter legs.  The ‘Haha’ is a popular sea trial for many cruisers making their first offshore voyages and a large proportion enter with plans, if all goes well in the Haha, to cruise Mexico’s Sea of Cortez or continue to other places such as the Caribbean (via the Panama Canal), or the South Pacific.  For everyone on Wheatstrong, except for the skipper, this would be their first long distance sailing trip.


The first leg from San Diego to Turtle Bay started Oct 27, a very smoky day with almost no wind.  Wildfires burning in southern California had filled the sky with a plume of soot and ash that drifted down in a surreal snowstorm, blotting out the sun and covering docks, decks and canvas in a sticky black and white mess.  After washing down the boat one last time, we were 30 minutes late to the starting line due to a crush of boats at the fuel dock in the morning. But it made no difference really since the winds were so light that the race committee called a ‘rolling start’ and everyone took off under power, quickly dispersing into the smoggy gloom.  Despite a few attempts to sail, the 300 mile leg to Turtle Bay was accomplished pretty much all under power.


Turtle Bay turned out to be a quaint little fishing village with a friendly population that seemed genuinely happy to see the 130+ boats in the Haha fleet (and all the US$ we were spending, no doubt).  The fleet had a beach party and pot luck dinner that turned out to be a pretty good time.  Watching dinghies get swamped, and sometimes overturned, while arriving and launching in the strong surf proved to be almost as entertaining as the music and dancing.


The second leg from Turtle Bay to Bahia Santa Maria started November 1 in 10 to 12 knots of wind. We were near the tail end of the fleet at the start again because we were late getting to the start - the result of sleeping late and tarrying over breakfast.  We raised the asymmetric spinnaker on our way to the line and quickly began to pass other boats and make up time.  The winds steadily increased over the 40 hours it took us to get to Bahia Santa Maria and we ran the last thirty miles under double reefed main and reefed genoa.


By 0300, Nov 3 when we got inside the bay it was blowing in the mid to high twenties and was pitch black.  Some lady from one of the boats at anchor was on the VHF radio saying that there were no good anchoring spots left, a heavy swell, and a strong current.  I was already concerned about anchoring in a strange place in the dark and this added fuel to my doubts.  We decided to go back out to the entrance to the bay and wait for daylight, then reassess the situation.  As we left the protection of the bay the wind picked up to the low thirties and the sea gave us six foot swells.  I thought these light gale conditions would be a good chance to try out some of our storm gear so I spent the next few hours rigging the storm staysail, the trysail, and eventually the para-anchor on its 400 foot line.  All the rolling, pitching, bouncing and yawing, combined with apprehension from this first experience with any kind of weather was having its effect on the some of the crew, however.  I was having such a good time trying out my new toys that I let us get too far from the bay.  The fact that we never did get the para-anchor to set at it’s proper 55 degrees off the wind. By the time we decided to stop playing around and go back into the anchorage we were 16 miles down range, faced with having to beat upwind into 30 knots of wind and six to eight foot seas.  This proved to be pretty much undoable so I made the call to skip Bahia


Santa Maria and continue on to Cabo.


Hauling the para-anchor in was a strenuous forty minute workout on a pitching foredeck in heavy seas, even with the use of the anchor windlass, but I finally managed to get it all back on board and we stowed it in the cockpit lazarette; the rode under the cabin sole in the forward bilge. Shortly thereafter, the engine quit due to clogged fuel filters so we sailed south under storm staysail and trysail.  While the rest of the fleet hunkered down in Bahia Santa Maria, we made excellent time on our way south to Cabo. Once the seas calmed down I went below and changed the primary and secondary fuel filters.  Since the diesel engine had been starved of fuel it needed to be ‘bled’.  Bleeding a diesel engine involves loosening various screws on the fuel pump and injector feed lines and then pumping fuel into the system until bubble-free, clear fuel runs out where things have been loosened. Then you tighten things back up and hey-presto, everything works again.  Well, first of all, the engine room is a hot, stinky, dirty place.  Secondly, I had never bled a diesel engine before.  It took me about an hour of crawling around and over the still hot engine (amazing how long that big block will stay warm), consulting the Perkins shop manual, until I got it all figured out and the engine started up.  Then we shut it down again and settled back to enjoy the remainder of the ride.


We made the trip to Cabo San Lucas in about 30 hours.  The winds steadily decreased, allowing us to fly the spinnaker under sunny skies. We arrived in Cabo shortly after dark on November 4 and felt our way into the inner harbour where we tied up at a large modern marina filled with large modern sport fishing boats.  We were certainly glad not have to worry about maintaining the watch schedule and to be able to step off the boat onto a nice concrete dock.  After a celebratory drink we all pretty much passed out until morning.


I managed to get back in contact with Richard Spindler, publisher of Latitude 38 and the Grand Poobah of the Haha, at morning roll call on the SSB thanks to a tip from another skipper who said that they had missed us on the previous day’s check in and were concerned about our status.  Unbeknownst to me, the time of the daily check in had been changed so I was looking for them at the wrong time.


The rest of the fleet came in a few days later, having had to motor down because the winds had completely disappeared since the little storm that we weathered. We ended up not being penalized for skipping the Bahia Santa Maria stop and on the basis, I suspect, of our good sailing time to Cabo we ended up taking first place in our class in the rally.


The marina at Cabo San Lucas is large and modern and ridiculously expensive and surrounded by an ever-expanding tourist-serving expanse of upscale hotels, condominiums, restaurants and shopping.  There is a huge sport fishing fleet there and the amount of money spent by wealthy trophy hunters has driven the growth of the area into a quintessential tourist spot. We were being charged US$100 a night to tie up to the dock at the marina and, with the arrival of the rest of the Haha fleet there was no room for us anyway (the Haha management reserves the available marina slips for the boats in the order of their registration for the rally).  So, I repaired a halyard that had suffered some chafing damage, filled up our water and diesel tanks and went to the outer harbour and picked up a mooring buoy.