Sunday, November 9, 2008

Cabo Wabo!

We made it!!!

Let me repeat that, because even as I write this, it still seems somewhat unreal: "We made it!!!"

At exactly 9:32 am on November 6th, we crossed an imaginary finish line running between latitude 25 degrees, 52 minutes north by longitude 110 degrees, 08 minutes west.

In a word? Awesome. A few quick stats:

  • Miles covered since leaving San Francisco: 1350
  • Number of fish caught: 2
  • Number of fish eaten: 1
  • Cases of seasickness ending in an overboard fish lunch: 0

To pick up where we last left off, we departed San Diego in the early morning hours on October 27th for the start of Leg One of the 15th Annual Baja Haha "Cruisin to the Cape" sailboat rally. On board our vessel Hurulu was me Nathan (Captain), Naomi (Skipper and Navigadore), my brother in law Cyril Vidergar and my father Dr. Bruce.

The race began at 9 am under cool, misty, and foggy conditions as approximately 160 boats all jockeyed to cross the starting line simultaneously. We kept pace with a 40 footer for a couple of hours, which was fun (a primary determinant of boat speed is boat length, in that longer = it's encouraging to go "as fast" as a longer boat). We had 350 miles to go to reach the first stop, Bahia de Tortugas (Turtle Bay).

By mid day, the pack had thinned out considerably, as faster boats pulled ahead and as particpants chose different routes. We opted to head well offshore on the theory that the wind dies down closer to the coast.

By nightfall, the winds had quiteted down most everywhere, and the fog started to roll in. With 160 boats all zigzagging down the coast in pea soup conditions, this elicited #1 in a series of mild anxiety attacks by my dad, who quite honestly stated, "Nathan, I think I'm in over my head." (Editor's note: by the end of the trip, he was a seasoned, salty sailor.)

To be fair, it is rather disorienting to be cruising along in the fog, in a moonless (read: pitch black) night, with only 10-15 feet of visibility. But once you're in this situation, really the only thing you can do is to stay calm, be alert and vigilant, and keep moving...which is exactly what we did. By dawn, conditions had lightened and we were again on our way.

Over the next two days, things took a slow and casual pace, as the wind often died completely and the seas turned to glass. It's actually pretty cool to be 100 miles out of sight of land in perfectly calm seas...the ubiquitousness of the color BLUE is calming and beautiful. But alas, we were in a race to reach Turtle Bay, so we turned on the motor.

Motoring in a sailboat is, frankly, pretty boring. Sailboats are designed to sail, which makes them rather poor motorboats. So, we steamed along at 4-5 knots (roughly, about 6 miles per hour, or a brisk walking pace) for the next 2 days. Eventually we reached Turtle Bay at 2:30 in the morning, and I am thrilled to report that the team of Beckord, Beckord, and Vidergar executed a flawless anchoring (which amazingly, was the first time we had EVER anchored this boat!!!) We then all slept for about 14 hours, exhausted.

Turtle Bay is kind of cool in it's own "coyote ugly" kind of way, with about 1000 residents and about 1000 pounds of dust covering every car, shack, sign and fencepost in the area. The Ha Ha crew hosted a party on the beach, which was ok, but nothing too thrilling.

After a day and a half, we were back on the high seas and headed for a small bay called Bahia Santa Maria. This was around 250 miles south by southeast. Again, we headed out to sea, both to avoid the 160 other boaters, and to pick up some favorable winds.

Wind we wanted, and damnit if it wasn't wind that we got. After the "Dead Calm" conditions of Leg One, we were blasted for 3 days straight. Don't get me wrong-- this is FUN, and we had a definite advantage over SoCal boaters, since we are used to the constant 20+ knots of wind on SF Bay. However, when sailing SF Bay, we can rip around Angel Island then safely tuck back into Sausalito Yacht Harbor and go out to a nice dinner, out here-- 80+ miles from land--- when the seas kick up to 14 feet and the wind hits 22 knots there is no place to go. The only option is to ride it out, even if it lasts for days.

My personal highlight of the trip was during the last portion of Leg Two. We each had two three-hour shifts per day. Mine was 3-6, meaning I did an afternoon shift and a very early morning shift. During my 3 am shift, we jibed and turned the boat East into a dead-on beam reach. It's worth stating that the fastest and most efficient point of sail on a boat is a beam reach, where the boat is roughly perpendicular to the wind, and the sails are flaked out about 45 degrees to the side.

During those early hours, from 3 to 6 am, I had my first authentic bonding experience with Hurulu. She absolutely FLEW over the waves, at sustained blasts of 8.2 knots...all the while taking in stride the large swells and breaking waves hitting her astern.

Anyway, once dawn broke and Naomi took over her shift, things calmed a bit, until we were all jolted awake with shouts of "WHALES!!!!" We were being trailed by an entire pod of huge whales, species unknown, but these guys were nearly as big as our boat.

The most exciting (and terrifying) moment was when a huge whale was headed directly across our path. We were going 7 knots and he was probably doing the same...we are about 14,000 pounds and he is probably several thousand as well...not a happy thing. I started blasting the horn and he must have dove under our boat. I still wonder-- what in the hell happens when you hit a whale? Certainly, neither party fares well.

Eventualy we reached Bahia Santa Maria and dropped the hook (aka anchor). This is a beautiful, desolate spot on earth, and the next day we enjoyed a great party on a bluff overlooking the bay. Due to a rather annoying dispute with the vendor of a faulty autopilot (long story), we opted to leave early for the final leg-- onward to Cabo.

At about 150 miles, Leg Three was the shortest of them all, and we continued to have good wind. Again we headed offshore, sailed south and east, then BLASTED due east to round Cabo Falso and then the famours Cabo "Arch", after which we dropped anchor near the marina.

Which brings us to the present. As I write this, I'm sipping a 7&7 and we are about to head out to the Awards Cermony. Tomorrow morning, our crew (dad and cyril) head back to USA and Naomi and I will take Hurulu up to La Paz for a while. I hope to update this again from there.

Ok, to finish up, a few comments and observations:

+Flying fish are freaks of nature: flying fish are bizarre critters. Every so often you see what looks like a bird flying along the ocean surface-- until it disappears back down into the ocean. What bizarre God-joke or darwinnian force created a fish that wants to fly? (mind you, these guys are not just jumping out of the h20-- they can flutter along for several hundred yards or so)

+Flying fish are annoying-- as fascinating as they are, they are also a real nuisance. The reason? They fly up onto the boat at the most inopportune time, and then die. The other thing is, they absolutely STINK. Really. Really stinky. And they shed there scales all over the place. After my 8.2 knot 3 am sail, the next morning they we had something like 5 flying fish lying dead on the decks.

+Flying fish can be funny-- as long as the joke's not on me. Cyril was sleeping in the cabin when a flying fish flew through the companionway and landed on his chest. He felt something wet and slippery and warm and thought the boat had sprung a leak. Then the leak started to shed it's scales all over him and stink up his shirt. Not fun for him, but still...pretty funny.

+Dolphins are freaks of nature, but I absolutely freakin' love 'em. So, just like flying fish are fish that want to be birds, dolphins are mammals that want to be fish. which would normally also make them freaks of nature, if it weren't for th efact that they are SOO darn COOL. They visit our boat almost every day, and they "play around with us"...they swim under the boat and surface, and cruise along with us for awhile. Also, one of the coolest moments is when we saw roughly 150 dolphins all jumping out of the water at the same time. I kid you not. I took some grainy video of it, but there was a whole pod (school? swarm? gaggle?) of them diving and flopping together. I think they were stirring up a school of fish or something-- not sure, but very cool to watch.

+I still can't believe we almost hit a whale-- there must be 8 billion square miles of open ocean on this planet, but somehow we came within 5-6 feet of hitting a masive whale. Heading dead on into the path of an oncoming 6000 lb piece of flesh is one of those moments of decision that the sailing books don't really prepare you for...can he see us? hear us? sense us? We heard anecdotally of a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy that hit a whale, and it was a big bloody mess...not the kind of thing I would wish on anyone.

+Fishing can't be this easy-- During the trip down, we wanted to fish. Now, I know next to nothing about fishing, so I tasked my brother Brian and my dad to figure out what we needed in terms of gear, poles, tackle, etc. During Leg two, we decided to break out the pole and give it a go. My dad and cyril found a lure, carefully studied the knots book to tie it to the pole, and started to drop it overboard. I kid you not-- no less that 3 seconds after the lure hit the water, we had a Yellowtail hooked, and I could see other fish following it. We let out less than 6 feet of line. We got it up on board, hit it with a hammer, fileted it, and marinated it in Soy Vey. A few hours later, we gorged on an amazing meal. I am REALLY stoked to be fishing on this trip.

+And finally, the "crew of Hurulu" was awesome...Cyril rocked our world by being so helpful, and his Eagle Scout training came in handy numerous times. My Dad became a skilled salty sailor by the end of the trip, and said he's ready to "do it again". Naomi was par excellence on the navigation front, as well as adept at handling the boat in heavy weather. Did I mention she looks outstanding in a bikini as well?

Ok, I need to get to the awards cermony pronto. Best, Nathan

(Postscript: we came in 2nd in our division! Woo hoo, go Hurulu!)

(PS-- Shout out to Andrea!)


Dee Dee said...

Congrats, Hurulu team! Glad you didn't hit that whale . . . I can only imagine the groody pictures you would have shared.

Unknown said...

Is that a life vest my papa is wearing? If yes, I don't know if it would keep him afloat. Glad you guys made it!

Unknown said...

Wow, what a journey!

I'm gonna come visit!