Leaving the docks, my back-out technique was picture perfect. Just like I knew what I was doing! It was a good start to the long slog. We motored into San Carlos bay with little wind, but as we turned southwest at its mouth, the wind picked up in full force and we charged forward. Indigo was yelling at us “Let me SAIL, dammit!” “You haven’t let me out in MONTHS!”
It was Sunday, Nov. 8th and the winds were slated to be 15-18kts all day. Normally, that’s pushing it for comfort, as seas can build quickly here with that small amount of wind. But it was either that or wait ‘til the next day when there would be no wind at all and we’d end up motoring the entire way. That’d be fine by me, but not for the captain who gets irritable when we have to motor. Plus we wanted to be anchored securely in Bahia Concepcion by the time Wednesday rolled around when a 30+ kt “Norther” was to be with us for several days. No one’s going anywhere in that.
Bat out of Hell
To obtain weather info, we used an app called SailFlow combined with Geary’s Sonrisa net predictions; both were accurate. Indigo enjoyed 15 kt winds all afternoon. We consistently sailed like a bat out of Hell, at 6.5 up to 7.4 kts with a reefed mainsail and reefed jib. This is ridiculously fast for us. Seas were only supposed to be 2ft at 4seconds but I figured they were at least 3-4ft, just on the verge of being super uncomfortable and causing me to get a little green. But I did OK, glad to have taken that Bonine. I had made sandwiches and packed a bag of snacks for the trip so I rarely had to go below.
We bashed into the waves, almost beam-on (when waves hit you broadside), but not quite. As we’d slice through one wave with the bow, it would smash onto our rear quarter and cause us to fishtail. My nicely cleaned windows and deck were inundated with salt as the water sloshed the decks (and us). Chuck Norris (our Monitor wind vane) steered us nicely most of the way, allowing us blessed relief from hand-steering in the constant sideswiping motion.
When NOT to Trim Sails
Nearing dusk, we were almost halfway across the 80 mile sea already. We’d totally underestimated how far we’d get with this amount of wind. We normally average about 4-5 kts, but today we were averaging 6-7. Arriving at the mouth of the bay close to dawn was the objective. At this rate we’d make it to the other side at 1am! Not cool. We needed to slow down. I was napping and heard Brian mess with the sails. Then I heard him mutter…”Crap, why did I do that?” We had started to go faster. Me: “Yeah, why’d you do THAT?” Stop trimming sails!”
Tonight there was no moon, but the stars gave us the tiniest bit of ambient light, enough to barely gauge the fine line between dark sea and shadowy sky. The seas mellowed out, thankfully, and the wind died to a consistent 10kts. That helped to further slow us for a few more hours.
Chuck Norris & Marya Throw a Hissy Fit
At 2am, the wind started to die. And Mr. Norris was pitching a fit – he wasn’t keeping up with the low breeze and kept waddling upwind. So we gave him a break and started to hand steer. Big mistake. Although I had done it before, at night, in pitch black, the waves were so much bigger that I could immediately feel my corrections in the wheel and rudder… so I could sense what input to make and which way to turn. Or maybe I was just “on” that night.
Tonight, I was the polar opposite of “on”. Yes…that would be “OFF”. I just couldn’t get it. I would constantly over-correct, steer too far upwind, luff the sails… or fall off too much, losing ground… or even worse, start to steer the OPPOSITE way I should. Acckkk! Why my brain would work backward in the dark abyss is beyond me. The wind and waves were weak enough that I could not immediately feel the results of my wheel corrections. In daylight (even moonlight), you can see the outcome of the bow turning. In pitch black, I can’t tell the boat even moved except to look at the instruments. So I’d wait too long to put in another correction and then I’d be off. My eyes could not scan the wind indicator, the compass, the chartplotter fast enough.
Brian reminded me to look for a star and line it up with a window or stanchion. Even that was only marginally successful. I had difficulty just keeping the star in focus - when I looked away I lost it again. Eventually I used the bigger lights of Mulege as a guide which helped, yet I still could not keep Indigo consistently on track.
Once a Marine…
In his former life, Brian trained many a Marine to fly helicopters on instruments in the dark. It’s easy for him. And he tried to help me, he really did, in his unique pilot instructory sort of way. But I was super frustrated and exhausted at 3am from getting zero sleep (not for lack of trying). So hearing “Turn right, turn left, left…left…left!, you’re falling off, no that’s too far, turn faster” did not help. I couldn’t do it fast enough. I couldn’t do it right enough. I wanted to give up. Or at least be left alone in my misery. He refused to let me give up.
Soooo… I was bitchy, like a snapping turtle. I was. No doubt. I admit it. My brain wasn’t working, I was tired and cranky as all get-out, and unable & unwilling to listen to direction. Yup, unemployable. That’s me. Except this was so bad, Brian said if I was his flight student he’d give me a “down” for that flight for my attitude towards him. (Basically a “down” is a “fail”; a fail is a huge deal - 3 fails and you’re out of the flight program.) Wow. Wwwwow. Harsh statement. So that’s how it’s gonna be, eh? I was mad. He was mad. Everybody was mad. The only one who could save me at that point was Chuck… and he was still throwing his own hissy fit… the jerk.
Brian finally took his nap, leaving me alone on watch in my miserable misery. In the end, I DID figure it out, although still not consistently enough for either of us. Of course we made up later. And the truth is, I’d have to agree with him… I’d give me a “down” too… IF I was a Marine, which I’m NOT, because I would have been kicked out the first day for either bawling like a little baby or insubordination. Or both.
We arrived outside of the bay at 4:30am, tacked veerrry slowly about for 2 hours until dawn, then motored down into the narrow Bahia Concepcion. In the burgeoning dawn’s light, a couple dolphins escorted us as we drove 1-1/2 hrs to our first anchorage, Playa Santispac. Anchoring after almost 24 hours at sea is the best thing in the world. And the feeling you get as you slide in that warm bed and close your eyes is…ahhh… pure bliss.
Realization... I have to do that again, several times this year.
The good news is that I wasn’t afraid of sailing in the dark. Well, the physical act of “sailing” in the dark was a problem this time, but I wasn’t scared or really even nervous about “being out there” at night. Now I just have to work on that cranky attitude stemming from no sleep. The next crossing will be from La Paz to Mazatlan next month…and twice as long…we’ll see how THAT one goes!