Baja Ha Ha – Race or Rally?

For over a year, the debate ensued regarding whether to participate in the Latitude 38’s Baja Ha-Ha Cruisers Rally. The rally zips down the over 700 mile coast of the Baja California in ten days. Ten days! Do they not realize it took us seven months to go 600 miles in California? On top of it all, Whisper prefers cruising rather than racing. But wait, the Baja Ha-Ha is a “rally” not a race. in preparation for going to Mexico, we researched anchorages and land trips along the west coast of the Baja. After scouring many cruising guides, reading Lonely Planet Baja and talking to several experienced Mexico cruisers, it dawned on us that quickly sailing down the coast of the Baja made sense. Well then, why not participate in the rally and meet a bunch of fellow cruisers? At the last minute, we requested Baja Ha-Ha entry forms and quickly returned them the day of the entry deadline.

Our favorite Point Loma coffee shop and its owners hosted many conversations regarding sailing and the Baja Ha Ha.
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Immediately following our last minute entry, the excitement of our first rally and overnight passages started to build. Questions such as should we take along additional crew, will we enjoy going with a big group, how will we enjoy sailing for 3 days without stopping and what should we wear to the Baja Ha-Ha halloween party swam in our heads.

Getting in the spirit of Mexico. Is that the Hamburglar sneaking up on us?

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The entry forms for the rally indicated we should be willing to gladly risk injury or death as participants of the rally. Furthermore, the rally leader, “the Grand Poobah” wrote in Latitude 38 that he did not understand why anyone would sail with only a crew of two people. Hmmm, should we be taking crew? After some discussion, we reconfirmed our desire to make the trip down the Baja with just the two of us. This trip would be an important data point for evaluating our ability and desire to cross an ocean with just two people.

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Boats for all over started arriving in San Diego during the month of October. Most boats participating in the event hailed from Seattle, Oregon, San Francisco or Southern California. On October 27, the skipper’s meeting and the halloween party took place at the Cabrillo Isle Marina in San Diego. Duncan attended the skipper’s meeting to gather information about start times and procedures for the rally. Then, we donned our costumes for the halloween party. Typically, Robin avoids dressing up in costume at all costs. Somehow Duncan convinced her to attend the party in Mexican senorita attire while he wore the mariachi outfit. Most folks at the party concluded Duncan looked like Steve Martin in the Three Amigos. After a couple of free beers and burritos, we rushed back to Whisper to finish up preparations for the Tuesday 11:00 am rally start.
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The final runs to the grocery store and marine supply stores were complete. Routes were plotted redundantly on the laptop, the paper charts and the Garmin GPS chartmap. Robin prepared meals and snacks to hold us for the first five days. Duncan rigged the preventers, jacklines and gennaker sheets. We followed the weather extremely closely as Hurricane Kenna threatened both the Baja and the Mexican mainland. Our motto remained true. If the weather did not look good, we planned to skip the rally and wait for the right time to leave. Hurricane Kenna hit San Blas, Mexico with 165 mph sustained winds on October 26. According to reports, the devastation and destruction in San Blas is tremendous. After the hurricane passed, the weather forecasts looked good for us to depart as planned with the rally.

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The rally is broken up in to three legs with start times. Perhaps this is a race. Here is the overview as described by Latitude 38. “The first (stop) is 360 miles down the chute at the ruggedly charming village of Turtle Bay, where the fleet stays for two or three days, enjoys meeting the great locals, having parties at the Verz Cruz and other modest restaurants, and a beach party. The second stop is another 240 miles south at lonely Bahia Santa Maria, home to an abandoned surf camp and a small panga fishermen camp. The one day it isn’t lonely there is when the Ha-Ha fleet arrives to find Señor Kojak has shown up with a portable restaurant and a great band to cater to the fleet.” The last leg is 170 miles to Cabo San Lucas. The Ha-Ha concludes with a couple of parties in Cabo. The first is described as ‘Can’t Believe We Cheated Death Again’ dance and party madness for the young at heart at Squid Roe until the last body falls. A beach party and an awards ceremony conclude the events of the Ha-Ha.

We gently pulled away from our slip at the San Diego Yacht Club and paraded out of San Diego Bay with over 100 boats. The overcast sky did not put a damper on our enthusiasm for starting the rally. Once we figured out the location of the starting line, we hovered near the line until the 11:00 am start. Bang! We crossed the line, avoided the other boats and set a course for Bahia Tortugas. The rally arranged for a helicopter to take photographs of the boats.

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The overcast weather resulted in Northern California attire such as long underwear, fleeces and jeans. Where is the warm weather? How far south to we neeed to go to find sunshine and warmth? On the first day, wind speed ranged between 5 and 15 knots until around 6 pm. As the sun set, the wind dropped to nothing. We noticed most boats around us were moving under the power of their engines. This must not be a race if people are using their engines. Succumbing to the desire to both move toward our destination and keep up with the other boats, we turned on our engine. The wind did not pick up until 36 hours later.

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There is much discussion in the cruising community about night watch schedules. The discussion becomes more complex and fuzzy when debating the proper watch schedule for a crew of two. Most people employ two, three or four hour rotating watch schedules. Some short-handed crews rely more on individual sleep patterns. One goal for us was to figure out what watch schedule worked for us. We tried anywhere from 2 to 4 hour watches. This worked fine as long as the person off watch was able to sleep.

Finally, in the afternoon of the third day, the wind picked up to 5 knots. Whisper manages to move along just fine in 5 knots of wind, so we turned off the engine and hoisted the gennaker. The absence of the engine noise was glorious. Duncan rigged the hand lines for catching fish. After sailing for just 5 hours, the wind died and no fish fell for our lures. With the engine back on and the sun setting, we motored on course to Bahia Tortugas. During the night, we spotted two navigational lights on land. Land Ho! Cedros Island and San Benito Island appeared to port. With the close proximity of land, we kept a vigilent watch to ensure we did not get too close to the brown, crunchy stuff. At daylight, we headed in to Bahia Tortugas. With the anchor set, we congratulated each other on our first three night passage. After a quick nap, we launched Shout and headed in to set foot in Mexico.WhisperInTurtleBay2

As we approached shore, 10 to 15 Mexican boys swam out to us yelling “I’ll watch your dinghy! I’ll watch your dinghy!”. According to the Ha-Ha rally committee, paying a boy to “keep an eye” on your dinghy is a tradition. The entrepeneur with the whistle, Rene, won our business. One dollar poorer, we promptly purchased a cerveza at the nearest beer stand and mingled with the other Ha-Ha participants. What a blast! We are in Mexico in a fishing village drinking a $1 US beer with the entire village out and about for the arrival of the Ha-Ha boats. So far, Mexico seems like a bargain at $2 US in expenses.

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We walked over to the Turtle Bay Yacht Club which was a house with a patio set up with five tables. Our friends from MR Destiny (Richard, Marianne and Jordan) and Texan (Gary, Lois and Jeanne) happened to be at the yacht club. The man of the house took our orders and brought us beers, chips and salsa. The senora of the casa cooked dinner for us in her kitchen. To go to the bathroom, we walked through the living room and kitchen to get to the household bathroom. Two beers each and lobster burritos cost us $11 US. The exhiliration of our accompishment combined with three beers accelerated the desire to go to sleep. To our surprise, Rene was standing right by Shout. His father was by his side ensuring he fulfilled the duties for which he had been paid. So impressed with Rene’s sense of responsibility, we paid him another dollar. Rene guided us away from the rocks and we returned to Whisper.

The following day Robin baked a cake to take as our contribution to the potluck beach party. We arrived on the beach just as the locals set up the tents and beer truck. Fellow Ha-Haers who caught fish brought fish to barbeque. A fun day of tug-o-war, water balloon toss, socializing, hiking and eating culminated with a gorgeous sunset. As the sun began to set, we realized the need to get back to Whisper to finish preparations for sailing the next morning. With Shout re-stowed and all other preparations complete, we set the alarm to ensure we arose in time for the 8 am start of Leg 2. Alarm clock? This is a race, is it not?

Time to check the weather.
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As predicted, the wind did not pick up until around 11 am resulting three hours of motoring. Magically, the wind picked up to between ten and 15 knots right at 11 am. With the gennaker flying and fishing lines trailing, we zipped along at 7 to 7.5 knots of boat speed. The following seas built throughout the day. By 4 pm, the wind blew a steady 15 knots with an occasional 18 knot gust. With the following seas building to 8 feet, the rudder and autopilot seemed to be working too hard under full sail. Since the sun was getting ready to set, we decided to douse the gennaker and reef the main. Our experience coming across Monterey Bay taught us a lot about sailing in big following seas. Just as we started to make the sail changes, Robin looked back at the fishing lines. “We have a fish! Wait, we have two fish!” Duncan gaffed the fish and brought them on board. With the reefed main and genoa, our boat speed did not decrease much, but Whisper felt in control. Then, Duncan went back to cleaning and fileting the two albacore tuna on the aft deck.

One fish, two fish!
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The wind blew between 18 and 22 knots all night. Our planned course took us up to 70 miles offshore. Words cannot describe the beauty of the stars on this night. One advantage to participating in the rally is the amount of communications available. As boats progressed through the night, a boat in front of the pack relays to the fleet the locations of tankers or cruise ships. The combination of rally radio communications and radar reduced the stress of sailing on the ocean at night.

The next morning Robin prepared ceviche and sushi. Freshly caught albacore tuna sushi for lunch was a real treat. Good winds stayed with us for the remainder of the trip to Bahia Santa Maria. We arrived in Bahia Santa Maria at sunrise. By now, the water temperature was in the mid 70s and shorts are our wardrobe. This is more like it!

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Bahia Santa Maria hiking trails reportedly provide outstanding views of Magdalena Bay. Given the choice of hiking versus napping, we decided to nap before the next party. The volume of parties and socializing is a real switch for us. Hence, we need to nap prior to parties. Shout carried us in to shore. Her new dinghy wheels are a real benefit to bringing the dinghy far enough on shore to avoid losing her to the tidal changes. Right before we arrived at the beach, a guy stepped on a stingray. Boy, did that seem painful. Apparently, the best immediate solution for the pain is putting urine on the wound. Several of the men provided their services into a bowl. Unfortunately, the Grand Poobah kicked over the bowl of urine and the process started over again. Just for the record, the urine did help a lot with the pain.

Bring the party to the Bahia Santa Maria.
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A bluff overlooking Bahia Santa Maria became the party venue for the rally. Mexican men in pangas, small fiberglass fishing boats, walked through the water dragging the boat loaded down with beer to the party. Guys hoisted the cases of Tecate onto their shoulders and hiked up the to the shack on the bluff. A temporary “restaurant” was formed in the shack. For four hours, locals cooked lobster, rice, beans and tortillas for the rally participants. Lobster dinner for $10 US – what a deal!

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Robin’s eyes blinked open to see a beautiful blue sky. “Blue sky, oh no!” The alarm clock was set for 5 am and a quick look at the clock indicated the time was 5:45 am. The start of Leg 3 is at 6 am. Oops, setting the alarm clock is now foreign to us. Hurriedly, we dressed, fired up the engine and weighed anchor. The racing thing is very stressful, but we only missed the start by 5 minutes. Lacking wind, the rally fleet motored along the Baja coastline en route to Cabo. From 3 pm to 10 pm, we sailed until the wind died again. As we moved south, the air and water temperature rose in to the 80s. Yes! Sailing in swim suits and showering on deck brought smiles to our faces. The warm weather we longed for finally graced us. The excitement of finishing the rally and arriving in Cabo was not dampened by the lack of wind and the sound of the motor. Over one hundred boats converged on the entrance to Cabo San Lucas as the sailing/motoring portion of the rally ended. We safely arrived in Cabo as one of three entries in the rally with a crew of just two people. Both of us felt quite proud of our accomplishment. And we had a great time.

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Wanting to share the excitement of finishing the rally, Duncan dinghyed over to MR Destiny to invite them over for hors d’ouvres and champagne before the “Can’t Believe We Cheated Death Again” party at Squid Roe. For some reason unclear to both of us, bars in Mexico think Americans still enjoy disco songs such as “Last Dance” and “YMCA” as well as show tunes from Saturday Night Fever and Grease. Perhaps it was the combination of margaritas and champagne that led Robin and Marianne to join in on the crazy dancing on the tables at Squid Roe. Robin prefers to think of it as just letting off steam. Most likely it was both reasons.

Two more parties to go and the Ha-Ha will be over. Thank goodness. Socializing and attending parties with this frequency is foreign to us. The beach party and the awards ceremony capped off the Ha-Ha in fine form. We continued meeting the faces belonging to the voices heard on the radio during checkins or night watches. Our objective for meeting lots of other cruisers via the rally was met. Awards were given in each division for the “winners” of the race. Whisper received third place in her division. However, everyone who did not get first or second received third, so we do not have much to brag about. Awards such as “Good Samaritan”, “Golden Microphone”, and “Biggest Fish” were presented. A good time was had by all, but we still cannot figure out if it was a race or a rally.

One of the procedures required in Mexico is checking in and out with port captains as you arrive to ports with port captains. We chose the option to hire someone to do the process for us. With the arrival of so many boats from the Ha-Ha and a sportfishing tournament, the agent sent us away to return on Monday. Initially, we worried about whether waiting until Monday would be a problem, but the agent told us not to worry. On Monday, we checked into Cabo and out for La Paz. Theoretically, we needed to leave for La Paz in the next 48 hours. Let the weather watch begin.

A few other chores needed to be accomplished in Cabo. Labor in Mexico is amazingly cheap. Rather than spend the day at the Laundromat, we paid for a laundry service to do our laundry. Six loads for $16 US. Woo Hoo! Fuel, on the other hand, is not cheap. Nor is fuel easy to acquire in Cabo. We listened on the radio to hear if the fuel dock had any fuel. Hurry! Go! They have fuel today! We pulled up the anchor and headed toward the fuel dock. Keep in mind we have become very relaxed since we left our hectic lives in San Francisco. We get to the fuel dock an every spot at the dock is taken. No problemo. We patiently wait in line to get a spot at the dock. As several sportfishing boats with 1000 gallon tanks cut in front of us, we realized that some level of aggressiveness similar to driving in rush hour in the Bay Area was required. Two hours later, we returned to the anchorage with a full fuel tank. Phew, now we are ready to leave Cabo.

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