As soon as we made the decision that morning to jump to San Carlos and run from Hurricane Blanca, my anxiety level went sky-high. 24 hours of straight sailing…an overnight….uggh. We hadn’t done any night sailing since going non-stop from Cabo San Lucas to Bahia de los Muertos back in November. Not a fan of night sailing; I was NOT looking forward to it.
Today’s wind was forecast to be 15kts. It wasn’t exactly ideal, mostly because you always tack on another 5kts for prediction error, which would mean potential of 20kts. I worried about possible wave action generated over 80 miles and 24 hours; but if we waited, it would be worse the following day, and worse the day after that.
Like a Box of Chocolates
You see, 15kts of wind in the Sea versus 15kts in Southern California are often two entirely different animals. In SoCal, that is typically ideal sailing weather…a nice, sprightly breeze. Here, upwards of 15 knots is fine for a few hours…but the long, narrow Sea can cause a funnel effect, creating nasty 1-2 second wind waves that grow steeper (and more vomit-inducing) the longer it blows.
Therefore, many people try to time their crossings with less than 10 kts predicted. You may be motoring the entire way…but hey, it’s better than getting your brains bashed out for 24 hours, at least in our humble opinions: mine being the “comfort-first” attitude and Brian’s the “safety-first” approach after 20 years of pilot safety-training. We are not hearty San Francisco sailors who love going out in 30kt winds just for the sheer “fun” of it. No way Jose.
Forrest Gump equates life to a box of chocolates; it's the same with the Sea of Cortez – you never know what you’re gonna get. I have spoken to people who didn’t time it right or the forecast was wrong, resulting in anywhere from really uncomfortable to frightening crossings. After having a couple of bad experiences, one boat’s wife never crossed again; if they decide to take the boat from La Paz to the mainland, he drives the boat and she takes a plane or ferry. Food for thought. Traveling all day and all night across the Sea of Cortez can be benign or hellacious - or a bit of both. So for our crossing, and in light of the pending hurricane, we’re trying to play it as safe as possible… probably to a fault.
Anxious First Hour
We shoved off about 10:30am after a nice, big pancake breakfast with fried apples. Who knows what the sea will be like later, so better to have a huge breakfast, snacking light and easy the rest of the day. Heading out of our anchorage into the Bay of Concepcion, already it was blowing 15kts and the bay was getting choppy. Not a good sign, I thought. I didn’t remember that this bay has its own weather patterns, and as soon as we cleared the entrance, the wind died down to nothing. Woohoo! This meant hours and hours of motoring. Brian hates that – but, I'm not gonna lie... it’s fine by me!
On The Road Again
It took a while but my anxiety level diminished and we got into the motoring groove. Salami, cheese and crackers were on the menu for lunch, the perfect boater snack. Brian made a crossing playlist on the ipod and we listened to everything from the conventional Kidd Rock and Aerosmith… to bizarre tunes like CW McCall’s “Wolf Creek Pass”, (to which we know the words of course) and They Might be Giants “Particle Man” (look up the video on YouTube, Jack.)
All day and into the afternoon we had little wind, at least not enough to sail by. But we had plenty of gas since we skipped 3-4 whole weeks of cruising. We read books. We watched the water – it was hypnotic the way Indigo’s boat wake curled and trailed away across the rippled surface. Brian saw a massive swordfish sling himself out of the water like a catapult. I was looking the other way, as usual. Where!? Darn, missed it again. The sea was remarkably calm and you could watch the smooth roll of the south swell coming up from the hurricane. Not a single boat for as far as the eye can see…totally and utterly alone.
Ping Pong Ball Moon
One fortuitous aspect about the inadvertent timing of our crossing was the full moon; it lasted all night long and didn’t set until after the sun came up. What a relief to bask in its comforting luminescence mid-sea, 30 miles from land in the pitch blackness. (You can’t see the opposite side even in daylight - think width of Lake Michigan). Under this dazzling moon, we could see the horizon all night long - I highly recommend it. It makes a huge difference for my sanity’s sake to be able to at least distinguish up from down.
Sailing the Midnight Special
At dusk, the wind suddenly picked up to 6-9kts – so we sailed. When it increased to 14kts hours later, we reefed and were still sailing at 5.5 kts. We kept watching the anemometer expecting the wind to get worse. But from dusk ‘til dawn, we sailed straight through to San Carlos in anywhere from 9-14kts the entire time. It never rose any higher and we were supremely thankful. We were also lucky that the wind came out of the perfect direction… for once… probably the only time this trip. With a northeast wind, we sailed on a beam reach the entire way, never tacking once. This angle also helped diminish any uncomfortable wind wave chop as we were slicing between waves. Brain-bashing avoided – yippee!
We did not do watches per se; when one person was tired we’d basically cat-nap in the cockpit while the other drove. Much of the time we were both awake. That works fine for one night; if we were out longer, we’d have to get better rest and sleep below for a few hours at a time as we did coming down the Baja coast.
Several times that night we were visited by a small pod of dolphins - we think the same pack of 5-10, again and again throughout the night. I first heard the tell-tale ”pwhuh” of one taking a quiet breath next to the boat. “Dolphins!” I whispered to Brian, as we were usually both awake. (Mystical animal sightings like dolphins and rays somehow demand hushed tones when observing.)
Scrambling like excited kids, we peered over the side in the dark. Several played in the rushing water of Indigo’s bow wake as we sailed along. We even got our own personal SeaWorld performance, complete with jumps and flips, splashing not 10 feet from the boat, their small, dark black bodies glistening in the moonlight.
“Ooooh. Ahhhhh.” Clapping ensued. (Yes, we actually did clap – they deserved it!) Brian asked me if this could be considered a magical night: sailing amidst dolphins under a full moon. I said, “Throw in a leprechaun and some Lucky Charms and it would be magically delicious”.
So, fortunately, our first crossing turned out to be easy. Ominous at first, leaving at the behest of a potential hurricane, but smooth calm seas for half and just enough wind to sail the other half. AND a full moon. AND dolphins. When people ask us about the crossing I feel almost guilty about our perfect trip. Two days later the swell got bigger and indeed we are really, really, really glad to have crossed when we did. Prudence wins.
San Carlos at Sunrise
22 hours and 86 miles later, at 8:30am the next day we arrived in our hurricane hole, San Carlos, a small town north of Guaymas on the mainland. A lovely red sun rose over the imposing Tetas de Cabra (yes that means “goat teats” – look at the photo) mountain whose towering double peaks partially surround this little bay. Approaching land, we felt like we were entering some remote, exotic harbor. Sheer cliffs lined the winding harbor entrance. Expensive vacation villas cling to these cliff sides like crabs. We carefully crept into our slip (Brian did a textbook landing by the way) that I had reserved for July 1st, arriving a full month early on June 4th. We checked into the marina, got a quick breakfast and promptly went back to the boat for a long, loooong nap.
Blanca Waves Hello
4 days later on June 8th, Hurricane Blanca turned back into a tropical depression, but still tracked north towards Magdalena Bay, on the outside of the Baja Peninsula. Effects of that early storm traveled across to Bahia Concepcion, where we would have been anchored had we not decided to cross early, and where they reportedly saw upwards of 40-50kt gusts. Sooo happy to miss that.
In the San Carlos/Guaymas area, we had about 30kt winds in the sea, but protected by the mountains the marina saw only up to 25kts – no big deal, safely ensconced in our slip. It was the surf that was spectacular. After we walked over to the beach, I wish I’d brought my video camera - the Sea of Cortez was indeed angry. Cars lined the roadside beach breakwater; it seemed as if the entire town came out to witness the rare and mesmerizing high surf. I looked at the confused, crashing waves, imagining what it would be like anchored or sailing in THAT…MESS… and I high-fived Brian. Whew... dodged that bullet. Let’s go get a Pacifico!
“You can’t always get what you waannt. But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you neeeeeed.” – Rolling Stones