"Have you swept the visioned valley
with the green stream streaking through it?
Searched the vastness
for a something you have lost?
Have you strung your soul to silence?
Then for God's sake, go and do it!
Hear the message --
Learn the lesson --
Pay the cost."
-- "The Call of the Wild" by Robert Service
Espiritu got up close and personal with this momma grey whale and
her baby in Mag Bay during our Baja Bash
THE BAJA BASH
The Baja Bash is the bold act of moving your boat 800 miles north from
Cabo to California -- against the wind, into the waves, past hundreds of
isolated miles of jagged, unpopulated desert coastline.
Noone wants to do it.
Even cruise ships wish they didn't have to do the Baja Bash
(photo courtesy of The Independent)
I've often thought that traversing the length of Baja is the admission paid by gringos who want
the luxury of cruising Mexico. It's the ticket we have to stamp for entry and exit.
If it were easy to get to the Mexico cruising grounds, then everyone would do it.
And as hard as it is to sail south down Baja, it's twice as daunting going the other way.
So. The journey north starts at the bottom in Cabo.
We spent two weeks anchored here (for free!) next to the exhilarated
craziness that is Cabo, preparing for the Big Bash
The Cabo anchorage
It's off-the-charts lunacy at Cabo, but I think I wanted my fill of too many people and
hearing Pharrell Williams "Happy" pouring off of too many passing party boats --
because I knew we had weeks of lonely, hard bashing ahead of us.
Deciding when to Bash is a big decision.
Deep winter is no good, due to frequent cold storms barreling down the coast.
Summer sounds tantalizing at first, as the wind and swells are lighter, and the weather is warm -- unless, of course, you have the bad luck to be in the line of one of the many hurricanes which
hit Baja each year.
We chose late winter/early spring.
The main thing we did during our two weeks in Cabo was the non-action
of patiently waiting for our weather window.
Spring can famously be a bad time too, though,
as the big northern wind and
swells begin to settle in during this time.
But at least we don't have to worry about hurricanes.
The books predict that the hardest part of the Bash is rounding Cabo Falso, just west of Cabo.
Wind and seas can come out of nowhere. Sailing south in 2011, we hove to in 40 knot winds during one scary night rounding the point.
So...we waited -- and hung out for a spell.
After all -- we were in CABO. Hello!
I liked this boat name
The anchorage is free here, but the dinghy dock is 3 bucks a day.
At the dinghy dock, these giant sea lions got up close and personal with Chris
Note the teeth. Sea World this is not.
They came right up to our dinghy. They're known to
jump aboard in search of bait or scraps
The big guy probably weighed close to 500 pounds
We also made some human friends here in Cabo.
A local girl tries out her play stethescope on me.
Turns out I do have a heart!
This Mexican kid insisted (in Spanish) that he
knows what his donated English t-shirt means
Regardless of whether you are a Trump fan or not, there is no doubt Trump (and therefore, by association, America) is hugely unpopular here in Mexico, especially amongst the working people. For safety reasons, we've taken down our American flag for the final leg of our trip.
Our Canadian expat friend proudly and unabashedly wears his Canadian colors here in Cabo.
Honesty, if an American strutted his colors this boldly, he'd probably get the
crap beat out of him. Sorry, it's true.
This self portrait by Frida Kahlo in 1932 shows the uneasy
relationship between neighbors Mexico and the U.S.
I bought a pretty little bracelet from a local nun. That's a St. Christopher medal attached to it.
He's the saint of safe travel. Seemed like 3 dollars well spent before the Big Bash, doncha think?
This crazy Mexican TV show was on in a restaurant. As near as I can figure it, we've got cross dressing men dancing on a giant wheel of the signs of the Zodiac.
Oh, Mexico. We're gonna miss you!
One more thing about the three big legs of the Bash. The experts strongly recommend you start each leg at night -- and do most of your sailing at night, if you can help it.
Great. Mostly night passages. And to make matters worse,
we had NO moon.
OK, boys, time to did deep and be brave...let's do this!
LEG ONE: Cabo San Lucas to Magdalena Bay -- 152 miles
Since we were patient waiting for the weather window, our night passage around Cabo Falso was relatively uneventful. The most wind we had was 25 knots on the nose for a short period.
The next morning dawned sunny and relatively calm. We were relieved, as we
had crossed our first big hurdle in rounding the mighty cape.
Magnetic chess and hard boiled eggs --
Two things I strongly recommend for the Bash
I took advantage of our last miles in the Tropics and dangled my
feet in the waves before heading north into the colder water
About halfway through this leg we fouled our prop with fishing line. Chris tied a line
around his hand and dove the prop, freeing her of the fishing line.
Me no likey. For several reasons.
We're all alone, 50 miles offshore. If I were to lose Chris there would be no help from anyone.
But -- you've gotta have a prop to get north -- unless you want to sail the whole way,
which is really, really hard, and it takes weeks and weeks, and is only done
voluntarily if your skipper is named Leif! UffDa!
Approaching Mag Bay we ran up against another daunting challenge of the Baja Bash -- countercurrents. Trying to approach the entrance to the bay, we hit strong countercurrents that made forward motion nearly impossible.
So we tacked out to sea for miles and miles.
Finally we entered peaceful, gigantic Magdalena Bay and dropped anchor.
Leg one completed!
Fish heads at tiny Mag Bay Village
We refueled with the assistance of the Port Captain, who brings fuel to cruisers via gerry can.
Once more, we would await our weather window for the next leg north.
With time to kill, we went ashore and poked around.
This was taped up on a wall in the village. A fishing boat had recently sunk off of Cabo.
The bodies of four of the fisherman were found, but the last sailor was still missing.
His distraught mother was traveling all along Baja, hanging these sad posters.
I liked this homemade swing set in the village.
Note the swing seat made from an old ATV tire.
There's no WiFi in Mag Bay Village. And during the day, there's no electricity.
They have power for about 6 hours in the evening thanks to the town generator.
No TV, no cell phones, no WiFi. What to do? Here's an idea -- let's get together and talk!
These ladies seemed genuinely happy without their creature comforts,
and were very welcoming to me.
The only Kleenex for sale in the tiny tiends was Christmas
kleenex -- in March! And we were grateful to get it.
One advantage to being in Mag Bay in late winter is this is the time when the California
Grey Whales come here to give birth to their babies. People fly in from around the world to
experience this amazing phenomenon.
Woman kissing a baby grey whale
(Courtesy of the Daily Mail)
This was our chance!
We hooked up with a guy named Crispin, who the locals said could take us right to the nursery.
Crispin is not a typical Mexican name, to say the least.
I started wondering if this "Crispin" could be none other than
the infamous 80's actor Crispin Glover?
Crispin Glover, weird and drugged out 80's actor,
star of Back to the Future and other films
Has anyone seen or heard from Crispin Glover in the last 30 years?
Crispin (Glover?) the whale whisperer,
with Espiritu in the background
Who could tell for sure if he isn't Crispin Glover behind
that beard and under all those clothes?
He wouldn't be the first, or the last, American to head south for good
when things get too heavy in the states.
Anyway, whoever he is, for a small fee Crispin took us to the whale nursery.
Enjoying our last gasps of Mexico
Momma and baby
Closer. Looks just like a cheap moustache, doesn't it?
Chris and momma whale
You can understand how ancient mariners believed in sea monsters
OK, I didn't get close enough for one of those baby whale kissing shots, but truth be told,
I think those are kind of corny. It was a definite bucket-list experience.
And just like that, we had a good weather window for our next leg north.
BAJA BASH LEG TWO: MAG BAY TO TURTLE BAY -- 268 MILES
The first night of this leg was uneventful and relatively comfortable.
But it was getting colder with each mile further north.
Chris fills the tank underway -- a necessary task during the Baja Bash
As things were going so smoothly, Captain Chris made the mistake of saying these fateful words:
"Wow, who would have thought we would be so lucky to have such a comfortable
and uneventful Baja Bash! This is the best Bash ever!"
I ran up to him and clamped my hand over his mouth.
Too late. The damage was done.
Never, EVER say such a thing when you are hundreds of miles from your destination.
Sure enough, the wind and seas almost immediately started to build.
Captain Chris, ready for whatever the Bash might have in store for us in full
nightwatch gear, including the tether which keeps us attached to the boat
In the middle of the night, motorsailing into 20 knots of apparent wind and 10 foot seas, the prop got fouled again with fishing line. This is, unfortunately, an occupational hazard of motorsailing these Mexican fishing grounds.
I absolutely did not want Chris to dive the prop again -- this time at night, in big winds and seas, and with a very strong current.
Captain Chris insisted against my wishes.
As he prepared for the challenging task, I frantically went over
"man overboard" manuevers in my head.
Basically, if Chris were swept out to sea my first job would be to throw over every cushion and pillow in the cockpit, as well as the two life rings.
I would then turn the boat around and hope Chris could get back to the ship.
Ready as we would ever be for this daunting manuever, I turned on the spreader lights, and for the second time in two weeks we again tied the tether to his hand. With a sharp knife in his right hand, a dive light in his left, and a snorkel over his face, he jumped into the freezing water.
He was immediately overtaken by the swift current.
I saw the fear in his eyes before he frantically dove under the stern.
He surfaced 30 seconds later and desperately swam for the swim ladder,
swept akimbo due to the very swift current.
I held the ladder level and solid for him as he climbed aboard, and handed him a warm towel.
"The flashlight went out and I lost the knife," he said, shivering.
"But I think I cleared the prop."
Over the next 48 hours the engine overheated and died several times due to air
in the fuel line and clogged fuel filters.
"Hook that bitch..." we muttered as, exhausted, we finally dropped anchor in Turtle Bay.
We slept for 13 hours.
The seaside village of Turtle Bay (Bahia de Tortuga)
The dinghy dock is at the end of this famously rickety pier
Two out of three big legs were under our belts, and we were
ecstatic to be in Turtle Bay (Bahia Santa Maria is right next to Mag Bay,
for reference). But as you can see, the last leg north
of Turtle Bay looms really, really large...
We went ashore and provisioned.
There are several small tiendas in town where you'll find pretty much anything you need.
This was on the floor in the main tienda in town. Right next to the meat department. You had to walk past it to get to the tortilla section. Note the grey tongue hanging out of the poor cow's mouth, just like in the cartoons. Yikes. Well, at least the beef is fresh.
DRUG TRAFFICKER ENCOUNTER?
Well, after years cruising in Mexico and Central America, surprisingly we've never had any encounters with drug dealers or traffickers -- until now.
One morning we motored to the pier in our dinghy to find four shifty looking fellows wearing sunglasses at 8 in the morning greeting us. We turned on our most cheerful "Buenos Dias!" smiles and tied off the dinghy.
The spokesman for the group pointed to a package floating out to sea next to the pier. It appeared to be styrofoam shrinkwrapped in Saran Wrap.
"Can we borrow your dinghy to get our...package? We lost control of it...it's very important."
By the way, there was not another soul around. We were all alone.
I looked at Chris, hoping and praying he would respond in the correct way (whatever THAT is!).
Chris thought a moment, then said with a swagger:
"OK. We'll help you. But we deserve a cut.
That's an awful big load out there. What's it worth to you?"
BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Just kidding! LOL!
Are you serious?
Ahem. No. That is NOT what happened.
What actually happened is this:
Chris instantly said: "Sorry. No way."
We then speed-walked into town and directly to the teeny-tiny police station in town
and turned in the drug dealers, like the good citizens we are.
I know what you're probably thinking. The only thing stupider than asking drug dealers for a cut for helping them out is refusing to help them and running straight to the Mexican cops in a tiny village.
If you thought that, you'd be right.
Of course, I'm kidding again. We did NOT do this.
What we actually did was what I hope YOU would do in such a situation.
Without missing a beat, Chris muttered: "No problem. I'll go right now."
He quickly dinghied out to the floating package, retrieved it, and handed it over.
They gratefully thanked us, and we hightailed it on off the pier and into the village.
Well. Crisis averted, I guess you could say -- on several levels.
More images around Turtle Bay:
This Crayola fence surrounds the elementary school
This Audi A6 with California plates rested incongruously in a burned out garage.
Underneath the dirt and dust, it looked pretty new. If you've recently had your Audi A6
stolen, this might be it. You're welcome.
We met young Nick (the skipper) and his dad Tom, sailing north on s/v Sirocco. Nick, being young, was pretty bored in Turtle Bay and had ants-in-his-pants to get back to the bay area. He made the decision to take a questionable weather window north, and sailed off into 25 knot winds and 15 foot seas. We heard later that it took them 6 days to get to Ensenada instead of the usual 2 to 3.
Consider them a cautionary tale.
The new Turtle Bay cruiser's hangout is Restaurant Tortuga (where we're posing in the photo above). It's replaced Maria's Restaurant, as Maria is in the hospital in La Paz. It's clean, provides good, inexpensive food and has fast WiFi. Alicia will take great care of you!
To find it, from the waterfront walk up the main drag towards the Pemex. A block past the Pemex, look for the word "Restaurant" painted on a brick wall on the left. Turn there, and you'll find Alicia about 3 or 4 houses up. Say "Hola!" for us!
A large flock of these Arctic Brants were our neighbors in the Turtle Bay Harbor.
They made me feel better about the rest of our journey north. We only had hundreds of miles to go,
but these guys have several thousand miles to fly before they reach the Arctic for the summer!
Better get going, kids, you're falling behind!
I think the birds might have been lulled into complacency by the cold water and cold wind. I hadn't swam in the ocean in weeks -- the water temp fell to the 50's at night. Our little outdoor shower aboard Espiritu was a test of our good humor in the chilly wind.
I splurged on a hot shower (3 dollars) at the best, extremely basic
(and the "only," I think) hotel in town, the Hotel Rendon.
Minimalist hot shower in Turtle Bay -- and I was grateful to have it.
Make sure you have plenty of pesos (cash!) before sailing into the great isolated hinderlands of Central Baja. There are no banks or ATMs in either Turtle Bay or Mag Bay.
So you need cash on hand.
As the days clicked by, our cash dwindled. Before we knew it, we only had about a hundred dollars U.S. left (in pesos). Fortunately we had topped off the tanks with diesel when we first arrived in the bay -- but since we were already splitting a lunch entree each day at Alicia's place, it was kinda hard to figure out places to "cut back."
Hmmmmm. This could get very interesting.
Chicken running across a little eatery in town
We came across this young man huffing and puffing, pushing his wheelchair
up a steep hill. Captain Chris to the rescue!
While much of Turtle Bay is famously dilapidated, there are a
couple of "not bad" little mini-neighborhoods.
A nicer area of Turtle Bay
Chris sent me up the mast to replace our Mexican courtesy flag, which was
blown down during the last passage. Do you like my doggie and bone flannel pants?
Finally, as our cash count continued to dwindle closer and closer to zero,
we found it -- our weather window!
We scampered into town to hug Alicia goodbye and grab some provisions for the
last big leg of our Baja Bash, north to Ensenada.
We were happy to find this "mini" farmer's market in town, and stocked
up with fresh fruits and veggies
LEG 3 -- TURTLE BAY TO ENSENADA -- 288 MILES
We set our alarm for just after midnight (you're supposed to leave and sail at night during the Bash, remember?), pulled anchor and steamed towards the open ocean.
I turned on the auto-pilot...and nothing happened. It was dead.
We turned around and headed back to our home away from home, Turtle Bay,
dropped anchor and fell into a despondent sleep.
Well, on the bright side, hurricane season didn't start for 3 more months, so we still had plenty of time to make it 300 miles north to Ensenada.
But we only had about $100 in pesos left in our pocket.
The next morning Chris diagnosed the problem: broken auto-pilot motor.
We threw it into a bag and walked into town to find a mechanic.
We roamed up and down the dirt streets until we found a little workshop. We showed the broken motor to a guy there. He then called another guy who drove us to another mechanic...who looked at it, called yet another guy who drove us to the third mechanic.
It's pretty cute the way these things work in small towns. Ya gotta get in there and talk to people. They know who can get the job done for you.
Chris and Arturo, our savior, diagnose the problem
with the auto-pilot motor
Arturo's shop may look messy, dirty and dilapidated. Hell, OK, it is.
But, you know what? He was helpful, smart, and he fixed the motor
in about 15 minutes. For 15 bucks.
That left us with about 85 dollars -- enough to buy an ice cream in town before heading out again!
Grease monkey Chris enjoys his hard earned ice cream
LEG 3 -- TURTLE BAY TO ENSENADA -- 288 MILES -- TAKE TWO
The last passage included several more changed fuel filters, a blown gasket, a broken alternator bracket, and round three of Chris diving the prop to free it of fishing
line (this time during the light of day, thank God).
When we finally arrived at Ensenada, the official end of the Baja Bash...
we fell into each others arms and cried tears of joy and relief.
"Hear the message...
Learn the lesson...
Pay the cost."