Winter Winds of Baja

Our trip down Baja California was plagued with rain squalls, gale force winds, winter northers and a less-than-pleasant sea state. I can honestly say I never thought I would look forward to Cabo but by the time Baja was through with us, any place that had sunshine and hot showers was where I wanted to be.

We spent the better part of an hour deciding how to leave the slip in Ensenada. It was early in the afternoon with a slight swell making its way into the marina causing the poorly restrained docks to shift and jerk. The boat, affected in kind, was impossible for one person to restrain but with wind directly abeam someone had to man the tiller. Fortunately, one of the employees of Baja Naval was walking by and able to give us a hand.

IMAG0843After that the first 30 hours were easy going, 15-20knts out of the NW but things took a turn the next evening. In the evening hours you could see dark rain clouds all around us but we had been fortunate enough to still be dry. There was a full double rainbow and despite the unsettled weather all around we were comfortable. Once the sun went down and before the moon came up the clouds rolled overhead and you could not see beyond the edge of the boat. The wind picked up and we reefed down.

Then the rain started in that sort of tropical-bucket-of-water-over-your-head kinda way, simultaneously the wind went berserk. The wind blew so hard rain became painful as it hit any exposed skin and the boat became unmanageable. We were already double reefed and I knew I would have to go forward to bring the main down and run only on the storm jib (or bare poles if this kept up). This requires going from a down wind run to turn back up into the wind and waves, a disconcerting prospect but one intrinsic to the work needing to be done. Once we came about Josie, with much hesitation and confusion, took the tiller and I headed for the mast. Between the rain and the waves on deck I felt like I was standing under a waterfall.

This kind of work on a pitch-black night is not for the the weak willed or faint of heart, this is the point where it is real. Here your choices are easy but doing what you know needs doing can be daunting, knowing that if you lose your footing on a night like this you wont be getting back on the boat. This is where even the heathens and nonbelievers start to pray.

The rain moved on as quickly as it came. We were left with heaving seas and 30knts of wind for the next 8 hours until the next rain squall hit, just as bad as the first but the moon was out and I saw it coming and we were not caught by surprise. It was about this time I cursed the weather forecast “variable 5-10knts my ass”. When dawn came we found squid that had be washed on deck by the breaking seas of the night before. From there the wind abated and left us running fast and without incident. We did experience a bit of the “cape effect” as we rounded Isla Natividad and Punta Eugenia, forcing the wind more easterly and adding a few knots but nothing terrible. As we approached Bahía Tortuga a massive pod of dolphins was playing in the growing wind waves and giving a pleasant end to a tiring journey.

There was little to do and less to write about in Bahía Tortuga; the town was built to support a major commercial cannery that closed long ago. We had no cell DCIM100GOPROservice (MoviStar) and we were late in the season so the only internet cafe was closed. We kayaked in to get groceries and walked around for about an hour in the dusty little town. The major point I am making is we had no weather information here and we left based on a combination of morning wind, barometric pressure and gut feelings.

We pulled anchor on a fair wind and made good time towards the mouth of the bay. We then turned south and headed for Bahía Santa Maria. A few miles south we saw hundreds of young crab swimming on the surface and a group of 20-30 sea lions playfully swimming and barking; this made Gidget call back excitedly because she loves marine animals. The rest of the day was uneventful and mostly quiet. We had growing winds the following day but nothing too noteworthy, but the last night the barometer dropped like a rock and a Winter norther began to blow. Again down with the main, with only a small scrap of jib we were running for shelter and taking a few waves over the stern. We were fortunate to be only about 20 miles north of Bahía Santa Maria. Unfortunately it was 2am when we arrived; it was pitch black and the anchorage unfamiliar. If this anchorage was not so wide open and straight forward, it would have been a difficult choice between heaving to offshore till sunrise and risking a tricky anchorage. With the anchor watch set we turned in for the night.

20130108_075213When we got up the next day the once empty Bahía Santa Maria was full of fishing vessels and pleasure yachts taking shelter from the powerful winter winds. We were there for over 48hrs waiting for the system to pass. It was too windy to risk leaving the boat and too cold to want to. We passed the time reading, watching Pirates of the Caribbean and learning Spanish.

When the winds finally abated we made preparation to set sail and pulled anchor at 6am and headed for Cabo. At the mouth of the bay we were greeted by a hump back whale not more than 30 yards from our boat and another three spouts could be seen on the horizon. Soon after that there was flurry of life; we were followed by another group of whales, more on the horizon, dozens of sea lions jump simultaneously, a massive pod of dolphins on the hunt and of course the birds that accompany such activity. This was easily one of the best days we had thus far.
The majority of the trip to Cabo was about as relaxed and uneventful as we could hope. The next weather system did catch up with us a few hours north of Cabo Falso. Even with only a few square feet of jib up it pushed us along at such a rateDCIM100GOPRO that we got to Cabo San Lucas 3hrs before the marina opened. So we just drifted in the bay enjoying the sunrise and watching the countless number of sport-fishing boats doing their best to pull giants from the sea in the name of ego and profit. I could already see the hustlers and pushers combing the beaches for the suckers and the gluttons as boats full of burned-faced tourist clad in life vests crisscrossed the bay. I could already tell this was going to be a stop that I would have mixed feelings about, but at this point all I cared about was a hot shower.


4 thoughts on “Winter Winds of Baja

  1. Wow! You two are amazing. It sounds as though you were right in that storm, like Lt. DAN & Forrest Gump. Glad to see you made it out and on to more beautiful Mexico.

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