It was Jan 13th at 8 in the morning that ODJ cleared the bridge at Mission Bay, San Diego and headed south to again sail the waters of Mexico. The year before I had made the trip alone, but this time I had a first mate, Mary, my wife of less than a year and her daughter Kristi. Kristi was 13 years old, and great crew.
The day began with a small adventure; we left the dock at 4:30 and as I motored towards the Mission Street Bridge, Mary yelled " what's our clearance ?", without thinking I replied "6 feet (thinking of the keel)", "NO" she yelled, "OVERHEAD !", remembering the only time I measured "about 40 feet". "180"`she yelled and I put the helm hard over. She was paying attention and had checked the height gauge on the bridge read only 37 feet ! We would have knocked off the top of the mast had we continued ! So we motored back to the dock, sat for a couple of hours, and at eight o'clock, cleared the bridge with inches to spare. We had now really started the passage.
The winds were light, as they often are around San Diego. In early afternoon, we were south of San Diego and in Mexican waters. We had an early start, getting up before 4:00, and all of us were sleepy. We elected to anchor in the North Coronado Islands. It was good that we all took a nap during the afternoon, as the millions of nesting (?) sea birds kept us awake all night with their noise. Maybe it was just the full moon that allowed them to feed all night, but whatever, it was bedlam.
Away early the next morning for an easy passage to Ensenada, 60 miles south. One of the school assignments for Kristi was to keep a 'whale count'. She had counted over 50, before we finally decided that we were sailing right in the middle of a pod. The question was how many had she counted twice or three times over. She made up her mind to divide the count in two, and log that number. Since we were sailing about the same speed as the whales (3 to 4 knots), if we stopped for the night (or plan) we would pick up a new pod the next day.
Mary, Kristi and I made the required trip to the Port Captain and Immigration, before setting off on a shopping trip. The 'girls' went off for last minute food stuff, a tortilla press, and to sight-see around town. I hit the liquor stores for small bottles of all kinds of booze for trading. On my last trip, I got a lot of lobsters and abalone for small air-line size bottles of booze, so I really stocked up. We spent three days in Ensenada, enjoying the shopping, eating-out, and playing tourist. In order to give ourselves plenty of daylight time we left at 2 o'clock in the morning, on the 16th, under way for San Martin Island.
In contrast to last years trip (with the broken water pump), this passage was a 'piece-of-cake'. The middle of the afternoon was warm and sunny as we dropped the hook at San Martin. I chose a siesta, while Mary and Kristi took the dinghy ashore for some beach-combing. After my nap, I cast a lure and caught a couple of trigger-fish. Hot dog, ceviche for dinner. I filleted the fish and had them marinating in lime juice when the mate and crew returned. They had an adventure with a herd of sea lions (and/or sea elephants). While beach-coming they rounded a rocky headland and startled a herd of a hundred or so sea lions on the beach. The herd broke for the water, except for several bulls that charged straight at them. The two of them climbed the a near by rock for safety. The bulls lumbered around the base of the rock for an hour or so before giving and returning to their harems. While they were relating the tale, and showing off the beautiful shells, there was a thump on the hull. A panga fisherman was here to sell or trade lobsters. I held up three fingers(lobsters) in one hand and one small bottle of gin in the other hand. He held up three fingers on each hand (one lobster for one bottle). I responded with 3 (lobster) for 2 (bottles). He weakened but shook his head no. Before he pushed off, I said "chica es bueno" (small is OK) and the deal was struck. I boiled the lobsters while Mary and Kristi figured out what kind of shells they had found. We all hit the sack, even before the full moon was up. A great day and a great sail.
The sail to Punta Baja was short, but not sweet. We had awaken to a misty morning with high fog. This is certainly not the typical weather for Baja, but then we were north on the Pacific coast. As we sailed south the fog lowered until we had only a half mile or so visibility. We closed with the coast and finally found our anchorage just before dark. It turned cold that night and the fog settled in very thick. Mary gets very anxious when it's foggy, and she didn't get much sleep that night. Just before dawn the stars came out, the moon shown bright, and it promised to be a good day. Half way between Punta Baja and San Carlos lies the infamous Sacramento Reef. In the late 1800's the sea vessel Sacramento struck this reef and several hundred passengers died. Sailors along this coast have to make a decision, weather to sail well outside of the reef, or take the 'sporting passage' between the reef and the land. Having come this way before, and we had a nice clear day, I choose the 'sporting passage'. Both Mary and Kristi were anxious about my choice and kept an especially good watch forward. The passage is only about a half mile wide and it was a thrill to sail with waves crashing on rocks on both sides of the boat. Although neither said it, I'm sure that both of then were glad when finally we were again in clear water. By four o'clock we dropped the hook in the small anchorage of San Carlos. San Carlos anchorage had a small 'fish-camp' on the beach, and as we anchored a panga fisherman pushed off and came out to trade. A small bottle of tequila got us one large abalone. I showed Kristi how to clean and pound it, while Mary made tortillas from scratch with her new tortilla press. You will never get a chance to taste them, but I can't think of a better meal than abalone tacos.
About midnight the wind came up. It had reached about 50 knots by daybreak. The panga fishermen were all hunkered down on the beach, and since I'm the 'chicken of the sea, we agreed to stay an extra day. Besides it was the Captain's birthday, and crew had decided that a birthday cake was in order. Since we had no proper oven the cake was to be 'baked' in the pressure cooker on top of the stove. Kristi was giving hourly reports of the wind speed, measured by the anemometer on the masthead. By four o'clock the wind speed was gusting up to 70 knots. The wind was off the land, and we were anchored only a quarter mile off, so the seas were not bad, although the was lots of spray. When the wind gets this high it's impossible to be outside, so we all stayed below and read. After my birthday dinner and lovely cake, we were all talking about the two-day passage to Isla Cedros. It would be the first over night passage for Kristi. All of a sudden all hell broke loose; we heard a load bang, like a shotgun firing, then the boat heeled had over and dumped the dinner dishes on the float, the boat started moving, and it struck me, NO ANCHOR. I scrambled topside and sure enough the anchor line had parted and we were being drive toward the rocks on the north point of the bay. I got the engine started (too much wind for the sails), Mary and Kristi put on life vests just in case. With the wind on my quarter, and the engine full-bore it was only 10 minutes or so that we cleared the rocks and had no other land ahead but Japan. (Editor note: Mary wrote a magazine article for Pacific Cruising which you can read by following this link Anchor article) . As we were blown out to sea the wind started dropping off and soon we could raise sails and shut down the engine. I looked at the anchor line and it had chaffed through over the bow roller, hereafter the anchor line gets checked every four hours during windy conditions.
We established our first night watch, I would take four on, and four off. Kristi and Mary would share a four on four off watch together. They relieved me a midnight, the winds had dropped to only twenty knots and we were making good time. I told them to wake we for sail changes, or if they saw shipping lights. We were twenty or thirty miles off and there were no dangers. Rather than waking me a four am, they let me sleep the whole night through. They kidded that it was my birthday present ! Late in the afternoon, we could see the tip of the highest mountain on Cedros, it was still over a hundred miles away! Mary said that it was impossible to see land that far away. I had been through this on my last trip. Mary had been studying celestial navigation and know how to handle the sextant and math. She did the exercise and after consulting the chart for the height of the mountain, announced that we were 88 miles away. It still floors me that we can see those distances from a boat. Eighty-eight miles at 4 mph, meant we had a full day and night to go. Kristi's whale count was now well over 400 for a week of sailing. The day went peacefully with all of those little things that one does at sea. Kristi and I worked on her school math problems, but decided that it was too 'rolly' to drawn geometry figures, so we swapped jobs and started making macramay belts. Mary went up on the foredeck to write in her journal and do some reading. No formal watches are held during the day, the autopilot steered (better than we could), we tended sails as necessary, and all kept a general look out for shipping. At eight I started my watch, glass of brandy in hand, and a thermos of coffee handy. The hours went by as I spent time day-dreaming, checking the heading and studying the names and positions of the stars. It's amazing how clear the skies are when you are well out to sea. The last hour of the watch was a real struggle to stay awake. I didn't have to wake Mary,as she had already developed a great sense of time. She and Kristi took over the watch and I 'crashed' below. It seemed like only minutes before Kristi shook me awake..no birthday present tonight ! I took over and the next four hours went surprisingly fast. The stars had changed positions and I had to learn the names of some newly risen stars. It had never before occurred to me that some stars rise and set each night. Just before dawn, Mary arose fixed a pot of coffee and joined me in the cockpit. The dawn was especially beautiful that morning. Once the sun was fully up, I declared that my watch was over, and that I was going to get us a fish for dinner. I threw two one hundred pound test lines astern with feathered lures. We all had breakfast in the cockpit and after that I said "good night" and went below. I slept most of the day as the mate and crew did what ever mates and crews do while the captain sleeps. Mary woke me up when we were about five miles off the north end of Cedros. We would be at anchor in an hour or so, well before sunset. Kristi, the only real fisherman aboard had brought in two sierra mackerel during the day, so fresh fish for dinner. After a great fish dinner we settled down, but got little or no sleep that night. Cedros north anchorage is one of the (if not the largest) sea lion rookery on the Pacific coast. Literally thousands, if not tens of thousands, of animals were on the rocks, the din and smell were unbelievable. If there had been more time in the day we would have moved down island to Cedros village anchorage.
We were up before dawn and on our way to Cedros village. It was a very quiet sail as we were in the lee of the island. The hook splashed down about ten o'clock, and we rowed the dinghy ashore with ship papers in hand. It took a while to find the Port Captain, he was out fishing in his panga, but his wife stamped and signed our papers and she welcomed us to Cedros. Cedros Island's industry is salt and sand shipping. Thirty miles east, on the Baja peninsula, is Guerrero Negro, home of the largest salt evaporating operation in North America. The coastline in this area is very shoal and big ships can't enter Guerrero Negro, instead barges transship the salt to Isla Cedros for loading into large ships. Millions of tons are shipped to very country in the world except to the US, were there is an import ban to protect our domestic producers. They also have begun shipping sand ! This part of Baja has hundreds of miles of deserted beaches, and has billions of tons of sand. Resorts on, and the government of, Hawaii are shipping thousands of tons of Baja sand to make Hawaiian beaches. You figure ! School let out, and it seemed like every boy on the island fell in a group behind us as we wandered about. They were smitten by Kristi's long blond hair, her light colored skin and her natural beauty. She was very embarrassed by their attentions and wanted to retreat to the boat. Kristi is very shy, but I knew there was lots more of this to come, so urged her to try to ignore it. The boys led us to a little gully, just out of town, to show us fossilized giant clam shells. These shells were three to four feet across and must have existed in warm, shallow seas thousands of miles south and millions of years ago. That night we discussed our passage to Turtle Bay and decided that we would make a predawn start. The anchor was up at 2:30 and we were on our way to the only town between Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas that had a store ! Cold beer for me and ice cream for the rest, and mail (hopefully) for all.
The noon whistle blew at the cannery, as we dropped our anchor. It had been an easy sail, with light northerly winds, and we had done the sixty miles in less that ten hours. Not bad sailing. We clear in at the Port Captains and found mail waiting for us. Kristi had letters from her class mates back in Camino, California, Mary had letters from friends and all I got a couple of bills ! You figure ! The abalone cannery that I visited last year was still going full blast, but in talking to the manager the total amount of abalone was down significantly. He said that another four or five years would probably see the end of the fishery. We filled our water tank with the distilled water from the cannery, and remembering the fiasco of last year we also topped off the fuel tank. The company store provided some bargains, mostly staple items like sugar, flour, rice and beans. The bakery had good bread and rolls (boleos) but since no preservatives were use the bread went moldy after two days. Again, Kristi attracted a crowd of boys when ever we went ashore. She preferred to stay aboard and fish, rather than face the crowd. We agreed that we had enough of the 'big city' (500 or so) and left at dawn to continue south.
We arrived about dusk, and while fixing dinner, Kristi announced that she had a bunch of red spots on her body. Mary's diagnosis was either small pox or chicken pox. In the interest of safety we decided to remain here until the Kristi was OK. There was a road ashore that went either to Turtle Bay and the clinic, or to Guerrero Negro and a hospital. For the next six days we took it easy, I spent a lot of time fishing, Mary and Kristi did a lot of beach-combing. The fishermen came by every day to trade fish, lobster or abalone. The stock of little bottles of booze was being depleted fast, as we consumed wonderful dinners. Kristi was now a old hand at tortilla making, and Mary was producing fantastic home made bread. Every day Kristi and I would work on our macramay belts. Mary spent time writing her journal and reading. Kristi seemed to be getting better, or at the least not getting any worse, so we decided to continue on our way. The passage to Magdelena Bay is a long passage. At least two days (48 hours) and probably more like two and a half days. Kristi had been insisting that she could stand night watches herself, rather than share with Mary. So we modified the watches to three hours on, six off.
The passage went well, although we did see a lot of shipping day and night. On this trip we were well out of sight of land. This gave all of us a chance to take sextant 'sun-sights' and then calculate our position. I was amazed that we all came up with almost the same answers. At night we did our watch on watch, and during the day someone was always topside to check the horizon for shipping. The weather was definitely getting warmer and the winds stayed out of the north and were light. Other that the time at San Carlos, the winds had been ideal. During the second night we modified the watch to two hours on four off. A much better schedule. A review of the log shows little of interest during the passage. The whale count was by the time huge, and Kristi decided that she would stop counting. It was the first of February and Kristi had finished almost all of the assigned class room work for a whole semester. She was a fine student and studied every morning without being told to. Mary and I would have to make up lessons for the coming months. We entered Mag Bay mid-morning of the first of February. Mag Bay is very much like San Francisco Bay. They are both similar in size and the entrances are much alike. In fact if you could move the Gold Gate Bridge here, you would believe that you were there. After clearing the entrance we turned northward, the first northward direction since the start in San Diego. We dropped the hook off the village of Puerto Magdelena, the same spot that Grand Turk and I anchored last winter. We spent seven wonderful, fun filled days here. A lot of clamming, beach combing, fishing and just plain being lazy. I taught the crew to 'crab run' and to shuck the small oysters off the mangroves. Mary and Kristi collected coffee cans full of sharks teeth from the dried sharks in the deserted fish camps. Their shell collection was growing larger, and smellier every day. This is one of the great gray whale nurseries in the world. At any time you could see whales in all directions (even between the boat and the beach!). Cows with new-born calves would come up and rub against the boat, to relive themselves of parasites. We had spent a fantastic week here, but had decided that it was time to again lift the hook and continue south to the tip of the Baja peninsula. Cabo San Lucas here we come.
Another two day passage lay ahead. We fell into the routine like out salts. There was little to report on this passage, except to note that the thousands of gray whales we now all north of us. The trolling 'meat-line' picked up a good size dorado (mahi-mahi) the first afternoon and we had a beautiful dinner. The next day Kristi and I started making fish jerky. The rigging was festooned with strips of fish drying in the sun. We moved the fish below at night to protect from any dew, but when the sun came up so did the fish. At the end of the second day we had the best tasting jerky ever. Again we all took 'sights', and all came up with the conclusion that we would clear 'land's end' about dark. Spot on, as we doubled the point at 6 PM on the tenth of Feb. The sumlog showed a passage of 881 nautical miles, in 25 days. We anchored right after dark. An extraordinary sunrise greeted us. We had anchored with about ten or twelve other boats, about twice as many as the year before. Ashore there were, stores, banks, bakeries, despositos (beer stores) and of course the Port Captain's office. We even had to check in at the immigration office. Truly a big city, of only 500 people ! We restocked the food and liquor lockers, ate tons of ice cream, fish tacos (first since Ensenada), and WENT OUT TO DINNER (no cooking or clean up, Hurrah). We checked into the hotel on the beach and had long, luscious hot showers and baths. And the mail, there were bunches of stuff for both Mary and Kristi and I got the usual bills. after a day or two we figured that this was enough of civilization and sailed north for La Paz, 100 miles away. The trip up to this point had been easy, north winds to help us on our southerly passage. However, when we left Cabo the winds were now on our nose instead of behind us. Thirty miles north was all we could make the first day, and we were glad to reach the anchorage of Los Frailles (the monks).
The high northerly winds would 'lock' us in Los Frailles for a week. Two years in a row, stuck at Los Frailles. Last year it was for over a week, and I wondered how long it would be this trip. Each morning we would up anchor and try to get around the corner to sail north. The winds were mostly 20 to 30 mph and after an hour or so of bashing into steep seas, and making little progress, we would turn tail back to the calm anchorage. After four or five days of confinement on the boat ( the surf was too high to get ashore) Mary got a little 'stir-crazy' and said if necessary she would swim ashore. We decided that a trip ashore was better that another day or two stuck aboard. We rolled the dinghy in the surf, but we finally had dry land under our feet. The day ashore was spent in long walks, beach combing and fishing the rocky point. We shared a water soaked lunch while we discussed our plans. I had noticed that the wind seemed to decrease during the night, and suggested we start after dark when the wind dropped. About 9 o'clock that night we up anchored and motored around the point. We were able to start sailing tack on tack through the night. By dawn we had made about twenty miles north and were well off the coast. Offshore the winds were lighter, and we were able to tack back and forth always gaining miles to the north on each tack. It wasn't until 9 am on the second day that we were able to drop anchor in Bahia Los Muertos (dead man's bay). It took a day and a half (about 36 hours) to go about 70 miles ! About two miles an hour ! We agreed over lunch, that night sailing was the way to go, and we would get underway after dark again.
It was now the 20th of February, 6 weeks since we had left San Diego. Six weeks to do about a thousand miles of sailing, although a lot of time (almost three weeks and almost every night) was spent at anchor. La Paz is the biggest city in southern Baja. We could now do some serious shopping, as super markets were available. Southern Baja (Baja Sur) is a duty free section of Mexico with no taxes or tariffs, so goods were very cheap. There were maybe a hundred boats at anchor in the harbor, about twice as many as last year. The showers in the hotel were hot and plentiful, the meals out exceptional, and the sight seeing great. After three or four days of the high-life we were ready for the quiet anchorages of the Sea of Cortez, our goal for the past month and a half.
Pichilinque is a small anchorage only 15 miles from downtown La Paz, but is a hundred miles away as far as other people and boats. (Editor note: true in 1976, but Pichilinque now had been changed to a closed harbor for ferries, a fish processing plant and international shipping. A polluted land-locked cesspool, no longer the harbor John describes). Kristi could stand on the foredeck and catch a fish with every other cast. Sierra, Pagro and a half dozen other species were on our menu nightly. Mary got very adapt at scuffling her toes just under the surface of the sand for small steamer clams. She could fill a bucket in an hour. I was good at finding and digging the pen shells. The pen shell is a shell-fish with a 10 to 12 inch long triangular shell. It is shaped much like a piece of pie or pizza with the point of the triangle buried deep and only the top of the shell exposed. Inside of this beautiful mother-of-pearl shell is a 2 inch in diameter scallop. The best tasting food in the sea. Oysters grew on the rocks, and were there for the picking. The harbor was really a long island a quarter of a mile off the mainland with a very shoal section at the northern end. The island was deserted and we spent days roaming around, finding fossils, interesting rocks and geology and on the outer edge where the surf pounded we found our old friends the blue crabs. I introduced Mary to the sea snails that covered the rocks. Boiled with garlic and onions they were a real treat, once pulled from the shell. Kristi was reluctant to try them, but when she saw that we didn't drop dead, she agreed to try 'just one'. Well, just one turned into 'just one' dozen or so. It's interesting that, once we overcome the initial aversion, the rest is easy. We enjoyed this anchorage so much that we spent a whole week here. It was time to move.
Twenty miles north of Pichilinque is the island of Espiritu Santo, and on this island is a wonderful harbor called Partida Cove. This place produced the best shelling so far. Mary and Kristi spent hours picking up shells from the beach or in the shallow water. You could follow the tracks of Tent Olives or Cone Olives in the sand and find the animals at the end of the track. Boiling or soaking in bleach eliminated the animal and left a beautiful shell for the collection. At night by the kerosene lantern the girls would spend hours with the shell book trying to identify each shell. The discussion would be whether this shell was a Pacific Triton, or a Knobbed Triton or perhaps a Angular Triton. Both of them learned a lot about what makes some shells different from other shells. They got good at saying this is a Miter, or a Cone, or a Cowery or whatever. I was more prosaic, asking only, can you eat the darn things? After a few days of shell gathering the captain ordered, all smelly cans, drying shells and other odor producing activities to the foredeck area and well out of the cockpit ! Kristi continued to provide us with fresh fish. Generally a couple of casts and she had dinner for the night. Another week had past and it was time to find an new anchorage.
A fifteen mile sail brought us to Isla San Franciscito (little San Francisco island). The 'shell hunters' rowed ashore almost before the hook was down. Word was out that this beach contained puka shells. Puka in Hawaiian means hole and a puka shell has a naturally occurring hole through it. These shells are generally the remaining tops of the cone shell and can be almost microscopic size to a couple of inches in diameter. The trick is to find the shells, grade them as to size, string them together, to produce a beautiful necklace. The first day proved fruitless, but on the second day they located the 'puka mother lode'. On the third day, three coffee cans were full of puka shells. The shells were sorted to size and strung into very pretty necklaces. They made me a 'King Kong' necklace of pukas at least an inch in diameter! They got a big laugh, while I got a pain in the neck!
Within sight of San Francisito is the little harbor of San Everisto. We made the trip in just a couple of hours, and dropped the anchor close to the beach. We went ashore and found that the fishermen there had caught three giant squid in their nets the night before. None of us had seen monsters this big. When stretched out they were more that 30 feet long. Tentacles were at least fifteen feet long and as big around as my leg! Truly I had never seen anything like it. The fishermen offered us all we wanted, but frankly how would you cook a piece of flesh 4 to 6 inches thick ?. Besides, I think that it may have been sitting in the sun all morning long, and none of the villagers were getting pieces, so neither did we. A hike over the hill to an adjacent beach brought us to a series of salt evaporation ponds. These ponds were the reason for San Everisto, they harvested salt and took it by panga to La Paz to sell. That afternoon we gathered clams and rock scallops for dinner, and hit the sack early. As the moon rose so did the wind, and by midnight it was blowing a gale. Remembering my rule, made when we were blown out of San Carlos, I started checking the anchor hourly. Sure enough, about 3 am the hook started dragging, and would not reset. Rather than try to motor back and reset the anchor, I elected to sail out of the harbor. The harbor had a small navigation light and once clear of that we had clear sailing to the north.
The wind dropped as the moon set and the sun rose. We could see the next anchorage, 10 miles off to the north. Bahia Tambobiche is noted for the large mangrove lagoon and the huge three story white mansion near the beach. I had been told that the house was built to be a resort in the 1940's when John Steinbeck and friends had sailed here writing "The Log of the Sea of Cortez". They apparently put money into it. but it failed because of world war II.
The dinghy ride ashore brought us to the mouth of the lagoon and we had to walk the dinghy through the shallows to find deeper water. We had never seen bird life as rich as this. The sky was black with pelicans, terns, and other sea birds. Thousands of pelicans dove on the many school of bait fish that covered the harbor. We rowed among the diving birds, getting wet from the splashes of the pelicans hitting the water. The lagoon stretched for three or four miles running parallel to the Sea of Cortez and separated by a quarter mile of sand dunes. We rowed through the mangrove swamp looking for a clear landing spot in order to climb the dunes and explore the beach. When we finally climbed the last sand dune and got to the beach, I flopped down for a rest while Kristi and Mary started exploring. Within minutes Kristi brought me the first geode. It had dropped down from the cliff and had cracked open on the rocks below. We then started gathering the baseball sized rocks and using other harder rocks broke them open. Almost every rock had quartz crystals, mostly small, but some had beautiful large 1"-2" long pinkish colored crystals. When we started back to the boat all of us were loaded down with geodes. The decks would be covered with rock fragments for weeks to come as we sat in the foredeck and broke open our treasures. It was now about mid-March and time was running out. We decided that we would go a little further north to Bahia Agua Verde.
The passage from Tambobiche was a short two day sail. I had been here two times before and was looking forward to us spending at least a little time here with Mary and Kristi. The anchorage has five little coves, each large enough for a couple of boats, but when we got there we had the whole place to yourselves. Mary and Kristi when ashore to visit the village. They returned with hand made tortillas and fresh goats cheese. Along with the fish that Kristi caught, we had wonderful fish tacos. We spend a week here, fishing, snorkeling, hiking, breaking rocks and just goofing off. The water was very clear and we could see the bottom at 30 feet.
Schools of small fish adopted our boat and we had our own private aquarium. Two immature dorados would show up twice a day to attack the schools of (our!) little fish. The dorados were still to young to be good fishermen and we spent hours laughing at their futile attempts to catch dinner. They would circle the schools until the schools were tightly bunched, then rush straight into the pack and try to catch a fish. They spent days at this before, probably by accident, only one fish rushed the pack and the other 'scored' as the pack scattered. They got the idea and after that, they took turns and always got breakfast and dinner. They only took a few fish at a time, and never 'spooked' the schools away from the boat. Kristi was also a good fisherman, able to catch a trigger fish or sierra for dinner almost every day. Time was starting to run out as we had promised Kristi that she would be back in school, in Placerville, by the end of the semester. So reluctantly we headed south, back to La Paz and an airport.
Kristi waved from the airplane window as the pushed the jet back from the gate. Mary stood beside me, tears streaming down her face, missing Kristi already. We had agreed that we would sail north, back to Sacramento, to be with her two children until they graduated from high school. We had plans to hike and camp and sail during the summer with Bret and Kristi. It had taken me over six weeks to sail north to San Diego last trip and if the same pattern held we would have to start north soon. It was now April 10 and if we were to get to Sacramento by June we had to get going. After a day or two provisioning we sailed south to Cabo San Lucas, our jumping off place for the northern passage.
The trip from La Paz to Cabo was a quick and uneventful passage. Mary was very sad and tears flowed all the time. I missed Kristi, both Mary and I were hurting, and anxious to start north. On Saturday morning we were invited aboard "Laromar" a big (65 ft) North Sea trawler.
The captain Bill Irvine had invited all the cruisers aboard for a 'tequila pancake breakfast'. One thing let to another and by afternoon, capt Bill and I were 'three sheets to the wind' and feeling no pain. I told him that I wished that I was in his place, "just turn on the engine, set the auto-pilot, post the watch and take a cruise at sea". Of course it's not like that at all, and I was just giving him a bad time. He suggested that Mary and I join him, as crew, for the trip to San Diego. No way was I going to leave my boat in Cabo for who knows how long. Then I made a suggestion, purely joking, that he tow us to San Diego. Everybody in the group laughed long and hard. Bill looked at me and said "I'm game if you are"!. Up until then it was just a joke...but...lets see now...Towing a sailboat is a real job. Sailboats are limited (by wave physics) to low speeds. ODJ's 'hull speed' was about 4 knots, which meant that Bill would have to travel slowly. How would we 'unhitch' in case of a storm or something? Who would be to blame if something happened? Bill and I agreed to sober-up and sleep on it. It was a crazy idea that just might work. We decided to get together and in the cold light of morning figure out if we were real nuts or not. Mary and I spent a lot of that night talking out the pros and cons and decided that if we could work out the details and Bill was still willing that we would do it. It would shorten the trip from weeks to days, and even if we dropped out we were that much further north.
The next morning Bill and I worked on the details. Simply put we each would make a big loop (me of chain, Bill of a large hawser) and run one loop inside the other. If either of us wanted 'off' for any reason, all we had to do was drop one end of our loop and we were disconnected. We also agreed that neither of us could (or would) hold the other responsible for anything that happens. With those simple rules we shook hands and decided to leave for the 880 mile passage the next morning.
The whole cruiser fleet was out to watch us hook up the next morning. I had wrapped some old outdoor carpet material around my chain so that it would not chafe Bill's nylon line. I got the dinghy back on board and signaled Bill to start the tow. The slack was taken up and away we went. ODJ towed like a dream, straight behind Laromar with no fishtailing. We turned the corner and headed north. The plan was to pull into Bahia Santa Maria, about a days travel. Mary and I decided to take 4 hr watches during the night so that if anything happened we would be wide awake. About midnight she woke me with concern in her voice. The wake behind the boat had gradually grown to over 6 ft and was breaking like a spilling wave!. I checked the sumlog (speedometer/odometer) and we were doing over 5 knots! Much too fast!. I radioed Laromar, got one of the kids that Bill had taken as crew and got him to slow it down. This turned out to be a constant problem, whenever the two crew members came on watch they always 'goosed' the engines a bit.
We pulled into Bahia Santa Maria in the afternoon. We checked the chafe gear, it was fine, then continued on to the shore. Mary and I had never stopped at this anchorage before, having by-passed it for Mag Bay. The bleached bones of a gray whale were scattered along the beach, and we picked up pieces of baleen to scrimshaw at a late date. The sky was just turning pink as Laromar lead us out of the anchorage.
The next leg was a two day passage to Turtle Bay. Other that the mid-night call to "@!#$ slow down", all went well. Mary spent her time reading and working on a macrame project. I spent a little time each day on plotting our exact location just in case we had to 'part ways'. I had towed a 'meat-line' just in case a fish could swim as fast as we were going and sure enough we had a small tuna for dinner and next day's lunch.
When we anchored in Turtle Bay; I dropped a stern anchor, and when it was set Bill then dropped his bow anchor. We had found that in the previous anchorage we tended to drift into each other. This new bow and stern worked out much better. Fishing pangas passed our boats and trading was brisk for lobster and abalone. The last of our extra liquor and canned food was turned into delicious lobsters. Mary went ashore and (on a hunch) checked for mail. Lo and behold, a letter was there! It had gotten here after we had picked up our mail in Jan.
The next leg north is to San Quintin, about 200 miles south of the border. We were moving right along. After clearing Turtle Bay we encountered our first bad weather. High winds and seas, right on the nose. Bill made the choice of pulling into Isla Cedros north anchorage to wait it out. After midnight the winds and seas settled and we resumed the passage. About sunset we passed the anchorage at San Carlos. This was the anchorage where we lost our anchor on the trip south. we had been there on my birthday over three months ago..how time flies when your having fun.
Laromar used his radar to 'feel' us into the anchorage at San Quintin. It had been a long hard passage into headwinds and high seas. It was well after midnight when we arrived, but thanks to the radar there were no problems. Our 'head and tail' anchoring trick worked fine and we settled in for a (finally) comfortable night's sleep. Murphy's Law works day and night, north and south of the border! No sooner than we settled in than I ended up on the floor! Before I could get up, Mary was on top of me. We had anchored 'cross-wind' and because of the two anchor arrangement the boat couldn't swing into the wind. What the hell, we spent the night on the floor instead of being dumped out of our bunks. After a conference Bill and I decided that a day and a half and we'd be in San Diego, so we set off at dusk.
At dawn we were off Punta Banda, I'd spent a full week hiding in the lee of Pt Banda waiting for the winds to drop the last time that I had sailed north. This time it was a piece of cake as we swished through the water behind Laromar. The moon was just peeking over the hills, the lights of Ensenada on the starboard side. The US was less that 100 miles ahead. Tomorrow we would be home, well not home but at least in San Diego.
The Coronado Islands are four small islands that are just inside Mexican waters. We passed them about 0900 and were officially back in the old USA. I started the engine and dropped the tow line, the sumlog showed 845 miles from Cabo. There was a nice breeze blowing so Mary and I hoisted the sails, then turned off the engine. We sailed right up to the US Customs dock in San Diego Harbor. Customs checked the boat, and our passports then stamped our papers. It was noon 27 April 1976. We had made the 845 mile trip in eight and a half days. It sure beat the 6 weeks that I took before! After tying up a the transit dock we jumped ship for a big juicy hamburger and fries. A pact was made we would eat out for a week, see some movies, and have ice cream every day.
The stay in San Diego was to be a brief one as we were anxious to return to the Sacramento/Stockton area. Mary and I had agreed to live near her son and daughter until they had graduated from high school. It was time to get back north, tie ODJ to a dock, go back to making a living again. It was worth 'hanging it up' for three or four years to have Mary as first mate. Who knows maybe Bret or Kristi may even join us sailing again.
We wrote letters and phoned friends announcing or safe arrival, and the started stocking up on all the 'goodies' that we had missed for the last 5 months. A letter from old friends said that they would like to join us for at least part of the passage north. Alan and Jean Acrell were to be our crew from Santa Barbara to Monterey. Merlyn, who had been our first crew, was to join us for the Monterey to Sacramento passage. With so much help the night watches should be two on, six off...a piece of cake. We were to meet Alan and Jean in Santa Barbara in mid May, about 2 weeks. They were taking a two week vacation which gave us a month to get from San Diego to Monterey. The trip to Santa Barbara went smoothly and we were there in about a week. We visited Mary's brother, Ed, and his family in Ventura. Ed's daughter was a world class Lazer sailor. She introduced me to what amounts to a surfboard with a sail. I never did get the hang of it, and found out what a bad sailor I really was !.
Alan and Jean called from the train station that they were in Santa Barbara. The next morning we all planned out the passage. From Santa Barbara the first full day would take us to Pt. Conception. It is called the Cape Horn of the Pacific coast because of the clash of winds and currents creates very bad weather around this point. Once around this point it's a days' sail to Port San Luis. Fond memories of Morro Bay required a stop there. A longish day to Pt. Bushon anchorage, then around the corner to Monterey Bay. About five or six days should be enough. We had two weeks available so we could take our time. The four of us spent a day playing 'tourist', eating our last meal 'out', enjoying a last stable night's sleep. At dawns first light we passed the harbor bouy and turned north. There was no wind and we motored all day. The waters were coated with oil from natural seeps. This section of the coast is probably the most polluted (naturally) in the state. By nightfall we were anchored just south of the Pt Conception lighthouse.
After a week of trying to get around the @#$% point, we were all fed up. No matter what we did we could not get through the waves and winds that constantly pound this point. Every strategy was tried, midnight departures, motor-sailing, long offshore tacks..nothing worked. We had been stuck in this anchorage and time was running out for our crew. They had to get back to work and there wasn't time to complete the passage. After it was certain that we couldn't get around the point and make it to Monterey in their time frame we decided to give up and head back to Santa Barbara. So that it wasn't a complete bust, we headed out to Santa Cruz Island for a few days of R & R. Even the R & R proved to be a flop. Strong winds blew constantly and we were again restricted to the boat. For almost two weeks we had been on the boat without a chance to get ashore, and for four people on a small boat it gets old quick.