Monday, October 26, 2009

Baja HaHa Leg 1-A – San Diego to Bahia de San Quintin

The start was set for 11am Monday morning just off Point Loma outside San Diego harbor. We felt a little nervous heading off with the approaching weather – but we did feel a little more informed about weather in general. Besides getting regular reports from Profligate (the Baja HaHa committee catamaran), Doug learned a lot at the Sailmail class about various grib files that we could get. We had set up some regular feeds of weather forecasts to get via our SSB radio. Grib files (short for grid-binary?) are binary data files that can show data such as the wind speed/direction, wave height/period, barometric pressure on a lat/long grid (e.g. every 1 degree or every ½ degree), forecast by a couple of different computer models for every 24 or 12 or 6 hours out for the next several days. The main model is the GFS (Global Forecasting System) model – but there is also a COAMPS model that seemed useful since that model pays a little more attention to effects close to shore. And with the weather that was predicted for Tuesday night and all through Wednesday night, we had scoped out a couple of possible anchorages for refuge along the coast on the way down. The first leg from San Diego to Bahia de Tortugas (Turtle Bay) is about 360 nautical miles (NM), which we expected to take about 72 hours. The prospects of 3 consecutive overnights, with heavy weather on 2 of them was not exactly what we were looking forward to.

All the boats were to parade past Shelter Island at about 10am on the way out to the start. The harbor police had arranged for a fire boat to be spraying his hoses as we went by, and there was media coverage set up. There were perhaps 160 boats at the start. Of the 193 signed up, several had already dropped out (e.g. due to boat problems like the water tank problem that Dick’s original boat had), were planning to start from Ensenada, or had decided to wait until Thursday when the weather had passed.

We approached the starting line at 1100 with very little wind, but just 10 minutes after the start the wind freshened to 8-9 knots from the starboard quarter. We deployed our asymmetric – and most of the boats deployed their asymmetric or spinnaker. Our asymmetric is the big blue/white/black with red horizontal stripe sail billowing out front – it’s a ¾ oz. sail, best for doing a broad reach in relatively light wind. An asymmetric has the tack attached down to the bow of the boat, as opposed to a spinnaker which has a pole to hold the tack out to the side opposite of the main boom. By early afternoon the wind had picked up to 13-15 knots, and we were pushing along at 7 to 7.5 kts as we headed through the Coronados islands.

As it turned to late afternoon, the wind died. We started motoring and started getting into our routine. We had set a watch schedule with everyone having 4 hours on and 4 hours off around the clock. We staggered the watches so that a fresh person came up every 2 hours. So Cathy had midnight-4am, 8am-noon, 4pm-8pm - opposite Doug with 4am-8am, noon-4pm, and 8pm-midnight. Dick had 2am-6am, 10am-2pm, 6pm-10pm – opposite David with 6am-10am, 2pm-6pm, 10pm-2am. Nominally Dick and David would “hot bunk” in the aft berth and Doug and Cathy would “hot bunk” in the forward berth (if not too rough). We also had the lee cloth up for the port side salon settee – Doug, Cathy, or Dick often used that berth. And at the beginning, David wasn’t feeling well and so often just slept in the cockpit.

The wind picked up enough in the evening to sail for several hours, but then died again at midnight and we had to motor all night. By 6am the fog had closed in to ¼ mile visibility. Every morning at 0730 there was an SSB net (on channel 4A = 4146 MHz), run by the Poobah (Richard Spindler of Latitude 38) aboard Profligate. It started with emergencies (medical or boat problems), followed by weather, followed by a roll call check-in where we would give our 0600 positions. Tuesday morning, Richard said that the forecast was still showing some pretty heavy weather coming in Tuesday night through Wednesday night, and strongly suggested that people might want to pull into Bahia San Quintin (or perhaps Punta Baja) – and said that Profligate would plan to pull into San Quintin. San Quintin had been our primary potential refuge, and given that report, we reset our waypoint to head in.

Bahia San Quintin is a large bay, about 5 miles from north to south. It looked like there was a hotel towards the SE, and some villages along the E shore. When we entered the bay at 1300 there were already perhaps 20-30 boats in there. We chose to anchor in a spot tucked into the NW corner near where an estuary comes into the bay. By nightfall, there were about 70 boats in the anchorage. It was a beautiful site with all of the anchor lights. We wondered what the villagers on shore would have thought – they are probably not used to so many boats in their bay at once – and certainly were not expecting the Baja HaHa group to stop there.

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