We had decided to do the 2014 Ha Ha rally years ago, knowing Brian would retire earlier that year. It mainly served as a deadline for leaving. Not because we like people, parties or anchoring in the midst of 150 other boats. Also, cruising to Mexico was a bit intimidating. Not only did we lack true blue-water experience, but we just started living on the boat a month prior. Throw in the discombobulation of ending our previous lives, lack of Spanish skills and minor fear of immigration and boat TIP complications. Sometimes things are easier with a group… this is one. It was the right decision for us and despite some cons, yes, it was worth it.
The biggest con of the Ha Ha is the contracted timeline. I wish I was able to visit Magdalena Bay, a prime whale sightseeing spot. Bahia Santa Maria was pristine gorgeous, yet I had no time to explore its beaches. And there are several islands and other remote areas along the way. Supposedly you can day-sail most of the way down except the last portion to Cabo which requires an overnight. But we've also heard of difficulty anchoring and coastal weather phenomena (less than 5 miles to land). One cruiser, when he learned we were going with the Ha Ha, lamented that the most beautiful parts of Baja are on the Pacific side.
The pace of the Ha Ha was grueling for us since we had done no overnight sailing with watches and we were only 2 people. Our overstay by 2 extra days in Turtle Bay (due to avoiding Hurricane Vance) meant we got no extra days in Santa Maria, when I was dead tired. We seriously considered abandoning the fleet there to rest another day. I wanted to. Brian did not. He won. But we are glad we continued. We had the best weather for that last leg and probably one of the best sailing days of our lives. Yin and yang. The good thing about the schedule is it really did force us to DO overnight sailing and get that much-needed watch-standing and night sailing experience. I can admit that now.
So if we ever did it again, we would probably choose to go slow and do it ourselves, now being more familiar with the coastline, weather, check-in procedures, etc. But we feel the Baja Ha Ha was a good experience for us newbies and we would definitely recommend it to anyone who has not traveled to Mexico with their boat. Why?
Travel with a group has its advantages.
- Weather/sea state info. Over VHF we got good weather and sea state conditions from fleet boats miles ahead, especially helpful for us slower boats.
- Position reports. Each day at 8am we relayed our coordinates to Richard, the fleet captain, or Grand Poobah as he is known. Having someone know your last daily position would, I assume, help in any potential rescue if you didn’t show up to the final destination.
- The VHF fix-it fleet. Ha Ha cruisers are remarkably helpful. If you desperately needed a specific size wire or a certain bolt to fix your whatchamacallit, just call the fleet over VHF. Someone was bound to have it and would just give it to you, or let you borrow a tool or give advice as to how to troubleshoot an issue. Several boats had major failures: broken booms, torn sails, dead autopilots, electrical failures, etc. One boat had a medical emergency while sailing. Immediately, there was a nurse, an EMT and a doctor on VHF to talk out the situation, in the middle of nowhere. You just don’t have that kind of support on your own.
- Reassurance in numbers. I have heard so many naysayers about traveling with a group. False sense of security, yadah, yadah, yadah. And believe me, Brian and I are not the group traveling types. But I think most cruisers are smart enough to know that we cannot count on anyone but ourselves in an emergency. Period. That being said, all that VHF net chatter kept us company. And psychologically it was nice to see (whether visually or on radar/AIS) other Ha Ha boats in our vicinity. Because there is really no one else out there along the Pacific Baja coast except a few fisherman and an occasional cruise ship (we saw two the entire time). Leaving each anchorage, the fleet would charge out of the bay like a naval war armada but within a few hours disperse to a trail of breadcrumbs. We were in the slow pack in the back much of the time and there were no other boats within line-of-sight. The rest of the time there’d be 2 or 3 within 3 - 5 miles that we’d pick up on AIS or radar. So few boats, in fact, that the only thing I worried about running into at night 20 miles offshore was a submerged container or a whale (a Ha Ha boat hit a whale and sunk a few years ago). Despite the vessel spread, I was comforted just by proximity alone through VHF. And tracking the bright masthead light of a ship a couple miles away in the middle of the night while on watch, knowing it was Sparx or Cool Change over there, sure didn’t hurt….
- The Ha Ha t-shirt phenomenon. We had no internet the entire way down to Cabo. And once we got to Cabo we could only access it at a bar for a limited time. We had so many questions that needed answering. So just spotting someone walking down a street with a Baja Ha Ha hat or t-shirt on (and they were everywhere), makes you feel as though you can just start a conversation, even if you hadn’t met them yet; they are part of your pack. “How did you get to Walmart? What did the taxi cost? How did you hail to get fuel from the panga guy and how much did he charge? Where did you get your laundry done? What Telcel phone package did you get?” The list goes on.
- The immigration shuffle. The immigration check-in procedure at Cabo San Lucas was a case in point of all “being in the same boat” since much of the fleet had to accomplish that task within the same couple days. While walking to the immigration office, we recognized and interrogated Ha Ha folks having just come from there and who were moving onto the next step. At immigration we met several other Ha Ha boats starting their paperwork. We ended up seeing these same boats at the 2nd stop (Port Captain), and the 3rd stop (bank), and the last stop, (Port Captain again)… or just walking along the way. At each place we would ask them questions as to what to do, where to stand in line, what papers they were looking for, how do I get to the right bank, etc. Knowing someone has already figured it out before you made the arduous task of getting acclimated to living on a boat in a foreign country much easier.
- Deadline-city baby. This is the single most important reason for doing the Ha Ha. If we did not have the deadline of leaving with the Ha Ha, we would have put it off. Absolutely. At least a month, maybe longer, who knows? Too many people put it off indefinitely. 170 boats signed up and only 130 boats actually left. We refused, probably were downright afraid, to be in that 25%. Mentally we were ready; we just weren’t quite ready with the boat. Would have liked to finish some sewing projects, varnish the caprail, etc. But you will never be ready, and everybody, EVERYBODY says that. So we prioritized. That deadline forced me to get the car sold, forced our last frenzied haul out, forced us to move onto the boat, forced us to leave the comforts of our Camp Pendleton slip and get down to San Diego. The Ha Ha for us was akin to crossing the Rubicon... there ain't no going back.
Speaking of deadlines, we’d like to thank the staff of Del Mar Marina Camp Pendleton. They put up with our dock clutter, loud power tools and thousands of pounds of stuff traversing the docks every day as we continued to sink the waterline. In particular, we thank Ann and Michael. Our long journey began with them as our sailing instructors years ago and both have encouraged us towards this voyage. Although I’m sure at times they didn’t believe we’d actually get the boat out of the slip. For the last year, every morning we arrived at the boat to work on a project, Michael would greet us: “Tick, tock. Tick, tock.” with his finger wagging back and forth… He was our hourglass keeper and kicker-in-the-butter when we just wanted a beer and a nap or when we got distracted chatting with our wayward friends. Now that we have “done it” and succeeded, I can finally credit you! Thanks, you guys. We will miss you.
Now here are some more photos of the Ha Ha that I didn't post the first time...