Bear with me, this is a long one…
Skookum V has been docked at Marina Fonatur in Santa Rosalia for just over 24 hours. Naps have been had, tacos have been eaten and we’ve had a small explore of the town. Now we’re sitting on the boat while the girls colour and Stu works, trying to eat three avocados worth of guacamole at 10:30am because the avos were about to go bad. So, I figured I’d use this time to describe our true ‘Maiden Voyage’.
First, I’ll explain a little about this ‘weather window’ we’d been keeping an eye out for before leaving Puerto Penasco. To give some context, PP (as I’ll call Puerto Penasco, because I’m cool like that) sits at the very northern end of the Sea of Cortez, which is 700 miles long, and weather impacts its waterways from a variety of sources. Systems blow in from the Pacific and cross over the Baja Peninsula, which can whip through low points in the land, and often accelerate as they pass through the gaps between mountains. Katabatic winds also result from high density air from a higher elevation flowing down via gravity (to the sea). At night the land cools faster than the ocean, which causes the dying of the daytime sea breeze, and then the air pressure over the sea (lower than over land, because the sea temperature is warmer than the land) causes winds to flow out to sea. Differences between the land temperature and the ocean temperature can also result in different weather patterns. In addition, winds known as ‘Northers’ flow from the lands to the north and funnel down the Sea of Cortez, often at pretty high speeds. This, combined with the depth of the Sea (relatively shallow) creates waves that are short and steep, which when sailing into can be very, very uncomfortable.
The other relevant factor is that there are almost no safe places (in terms of protected anchorages) to stop along the Baja Peninsula between PP and our first intended destination, Bahia de los Angeles. Knowing our first journey would be the 140 nautical miles from PP to Bay of LA, we didn’t want to be caught in one of these Northers, and unduly stress ourselves, the kids or the boat before we’d really had a chance to know how well she sailed. At the recommendation of our coaches from SV Totem, we were waiting for a weather forecast that showed a large enough window in the weather without a Norther and with minimal wind. Ideally, despite being on a sailboat, we wanted to motor our first passage and get that first bit south nice and safely.
Throughout the first few weeks of outfitting the boat we watched the weather, and basically, we only saw one opportunity to make the ‘jump’; however, we weren’t quite ready to go at that point. We had system after system of high winds pass through in the week after we splashed the boat, so we sat at the marina once again watching the weather and awaiting our chance. Keep in mind, while weather forecasting is a science, it is also about predicting forces of nature, which are known to change without warning – a healthy dose of being prepared for the unknown is definitely required.
So, when our weather window presented itself, it was ultimately time to go. Preparing ourselves and the boat at this point included the following:
- Making sure we had enough diesel (the fuel for the engines);
- Making sure we had enough propane (the fuel we cook with);
- Making sure we had enough water (we haven’t used our Spectra watermaker yet, as the waters in PP were just a bit yucky!)
- Final provisioning (making sure we have our fresh produce, our dry goods, our preferred snacks and, of course, enough beer)
- Putting things away on the boat that could fall over, break, get in our way etc… (though admittedly, this isn’t as critical on the catamaran, which doesn’t heel over the way a monohull does)
- Setting ourselves up to deal with potential sea sickness. I had actually been experiencing a little while at the dock, so we wanted to be sure neither Stu nor I had to do more than necessary inside the boat, where it can get worse. I cooked up some vegan Mac and Cheese, and had it ready to heat; cut up veggies and fruits for snacking; made sure we had a basket of snack-worthy nuts, chips, cookies, granola bars and chocolate to dip into; made sure the girls pajamas and bed were set up and easy to access; pulled out our warmer clothes and jackets to access as night set in etc.
- Deal with downloads and other necessities while we had cell service – favourite tv shows and movies for the girls, playlists from Spotify, podcasts to listen to, books from Audible, last-minute weather forecasts, mail forwarding to our satellite system, updates to family and friends
When we awoke on Tuesday morning, our planned day of departure, we realized we had one very important last-minute task to do. Not knowing when we might next come across a product of the same quality, we scurried off to @cafepuertoviejo and bought ourselves some more of their gorgeous ground coffee…phew!
We had a delightful send off as our new friends, Colin and Angela, from the sailing vessel AngelaLee, lead us out of PP in their dinghy around 2:30 in the afternoon and waved as we dialed ourselves into our charted waypoint. We had timed our departure with the intention of arriving at a channel between the Baja Peninsula and an island the following morning in daylight, based on our expected travel speed of 6-7 nautical miles per hour.
The afternoon and evening passed quickly. We bundled ourselves as nighttime arrived and the temperatures dropped further. Our Mac and Cheese was devoured quickly with a side of steamed broccoli, and then it was time for stories and bedtime for the girls. I did the latter as quickly as I could, as we had a little wave action and I was starting to feel nauseous while down below in their cabin. The good news is that the best cure for nausea (aside from getting off the boat, which wasn’t an option) is to be at the helm (steering wheel) watching the horizon. On that basis, and the fact Stu sleeps much easier than I do, we agreed I would take the first watch.
Stu settled onto the settee (couch/bench thing) in the cockpit, snuggled up with warm blankets and a pillow, and I took my place at the helm, scanning 360 degrees regularly and keeping an eye out for other vessels. The moon was obscured by clouds at that point, so it was nearly completely pitch black, save for the glow from our steaming light (a single white light on the mast) and navigations lights (a red and green light at the bow (front) of the boat, and white lights off the stern (back of the boat)), the lights of one fishing boat on the horizon and the insanely fluorescent turquoise streaks in the water caused by phosphorescence. It is near impossible to get photos of these, but here is your wiki link: Phosphorescence
We hadn’t planned a set schedule for taking watch at the helm, as we wanted to see how we both felt throughout the night. In the end it worked quite well that Stu went to sleep first, from 8-11pm, and then I slept from 11pm to 1am, and then Stu slept from 1am to 3am, and I slept from 3am to 5:10am. When I awoke, I looked out and saw the start of the most incredible sunrise:
Then, the kids awoke just as we were nearing Bahia de los Angeles. We checked the most recent weather forecast, which had been released at midnight, and all looked calm for at least another 24 hours. In a passing comment to Stu I said, ‘It’s been so nice, and the weather looks so good, we should just keep going.”…which of course, with Stu, is interpreted as permission, not suggestion J. Within about 30 minutes we’d talked it over, messaged Totem over satellite to have them double check the forecast, and made the decision we were going to head further south…another 120 nautical miles, and another overnight passage. Here were the main factors in that decision:
- The weather window was looking to be much longer than originally forecast, and no real wind was anticipated until Thursday afternoon (and at that time it was Wednesday morning).
- We knew we would be facing another overnight passage when we decided to leave Bahia de los Angeles anyway, so might as well get it done now.
- It was unknown when we might find another window to make that hop south.
- A big wind was anticipated for Friday (over 30 knots), and we’d be more comfortable with the boat tied to a dock behind a breakwater than sitting at anchor (and hoping the anchor was staying put).
- We anticipate we will be spending quite a bit more time in Bahia de los Angeles when we head north later in the year.
- We had been quite cold while in PP, and the further south we head, the warmer we’ll be.
- Santa Rosalia is an excellent launching point for a whole bunch of awesome anchorages, whereas there was only one decent anchorage between Bahia de los Angeles and Santa Rosalia.
- We were feeling good, had each had a decent amount of sleep the night before, and were ready to take on another overnight.
- The kids were super happy and chill, and enjoying the trip.
- We had an engine light come on not long out of PP, which Stu suspected was an issue with the alternator, and it would be easier to diagnose and possibly deal with in Santa Rosalia where there was access to stores, wifi (for research), and a dock.
- Totem just so happened to be at the dock in Santa Rosalia, and this would be a chance to see them in-person, and catch up on all the myriad of questions we always seem to have (and possibly get help with that alternator issue).
- As my sister so eloquently put it, we just never really start small…so why not double our intended mileage and time on passage the very first time we’re out?
So, the decision was made, and as everyone saw by the video in the last post, we were so incredibly rewarded for doing so. I don’t think Stu or I have ever experienced anything quite as magical as that ‘super pod’ of dolphins (which may or may not be evident by Stu screaming ‘we love you guys’ to the dolphins over and over). We also had two separate whale shows (what my family has always called a whale siting) throughout the day, which we believe were likely fin whales – HUGE whales).
The rest of the passage was incredibly smooth. Dead calm waters, save for a touch of wind around midnight. Not quite enough to sail, but enough to allow us to motor sail (we put the sails up and used one of the motors at a lower rpm, and still made decent time). We saw one boat in about 15 hours, and otherwise had the entire second half of the passage to ourselves. And then we were greeted by another gorgeous sunrise as we approached Santa Rosalia. Turns out the alternator issue is just a broken wire at the back of the alternator, so should be an easy fix (as if I understand what any of that means…I have so much to still learn!)
I’m going to sign off this one for now, as it has become quite long (and I’m sure most of you have fallen asleep by now), but I promise we will get to that boat tour soon, as well as to answer the questions people have been sending us.