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Buddy-boating Up the Baja

Dennis Giraud

Ultegra
Beneteau 44, Cutter Rigged
September 5th, 2016

A lot has happened over the last 5 months. Some good… some bad. In the end mostly good. Everything happens for a reason. Maybe. I think. So some say. So I hear.

By the end of April I was finding cruising on my own was not for me. I knew that being on my own might be an issue before I left but I had to give it a try. I had said all along that I was going to do this as long as it was fun. It stopped being fun very suddenly and I made the decision the best thing for me was to head home where I thought I would have the best opportunity to put my life back together. However, a very funny thing happened on the way to the colosseum (Wayne and Shuster) – I’ll explain.

I met up with Jim and Trish (Falcon VII)  in Los Cabos and we kind of buddy boated up the Baja together. They were powering mostly and I was trying to sail as much as possible. My boat doesn’t have the engine horsepower to make good time under power alone.  We met up all along the way which was great.  About 6 hours after  I left Turtle Bay, my engine oil pressure dropped from 75psi to 15psi. I shut the engine down immediately to preserve it. I knew there was a serious problem and I knew I would need some power to weigh anchor and dock. I had been hoping the engine would last the trip but it was the weakest system on the boat and “The Bash” has a reputation of revealing every weakness in your boat’s systems. It did. The engine was the only system I had not rebuilt and, in all honesty, it was no big surprise. I had asked a lot from it over the last year. I babied it but it was not enough. It was just worn out.

I called Falcon VII to let them know what was going on and that it was going to take me an extra two days to get to Bahia San Quintin.  We could only communicate on channel 16 because we were so far apart. When I finished telling him about my situation, US Coast Guard Sector San Diego came booming in strength 50 and wanted all of my info and intentions. They put me on a four hour reporting schedule and monitored me all the way to San Quintin and then to Ensenada. Talk about great service! They didn’t care I was a Canadian vessel. I also told them that I was not in any danger. Humans have paddled and sailed these waters for tens of thousands of years without the benefit of the modern gear I have. Their concern, I think, might have been that I was single handing.  My best option with the forecast winds was to head west out to sea for a day then tack back to shore. I thought I could do it with two tacks but got headed as I approached the coast and I took four. I arrived in San Quintin late in the afternoon. The winds increased to 25 kts in the bay due to geographical funneling effect which made anchoring a bit of a challenge. Jim wisely suggested I anchor to the east of him which I did. After that I grabbed some food and crashed.

It felt like I had worked out in the gym for 48 hours. It was a work out: the winds went from 20 to 30 knots, to 3 to 10 knots, to 25 to 15 knots. The sea condition varied accordingly. I worked the boat to point as high as I could get it to go. I averaged about 28 degrees apparent which was pretty good but it was like racing. I slept in the cockpit and was able to manage my fatigue quite well. All the training I had in fatigue management in my former life as a pilot really paid off. The AIS and radar sentry helped a lot too. The fact I saw only two seine boats the whole trip was a real bonus.

When I arrived in San Quintin there were three other boats there. Falcon VII with Jim and Tricia, Fairy Tale with Erin single handing and Cordon (not the real boat name) out of Victoria. During the night Cordon broke lose from its anchor system and was blown ashore. I missed all the excitement but Tricia recounts the night’s events on her blog very well. When I woke up I looked out and thought, “where did everyone go?”.  Both boats to the west were gone but Fairy Tale was still way out where she had been and remained for her time in San Quintin. Continuing my visual search I found Falcon VII off to the east. They had moved during the night. The picture shows why:

Ultegra at anchor in Bahia San Quintin

Ultegra at anchor in Bahia San Quintin

The breaker you see was breaking right where they had anchored. Cordon was just a bit further west. Both of them would have been hit by these waves. Oddly enough they missed me completely and  I stayed where I was. I did consider moving well towards the shore (over to the Entrada), but decided not to risk further damage to the engine. It was really not too bad where I was.

The weather forecast was showing that the winds were going to drop to less than 6 in a few days and, not wanting to end up close to shore or in the bay off Ensenada with no engine and no wind I decided to take my lumps and get on my way. I figured it would take about 2 days if the winds held and maybe just one tack. It was blowing 20 plus in the bay when I left but soon moderated when I got away from land. The seas were forecast to be big and short so the plan was to head offshore for a day or until I pounded twice in a minute. I would then tack and head back in. I got far enough out, about 80 miles, before it got too rough. It looked good for Ensenada but, alas, was not to be. As I approached shore at about 15 miles the wind started to back and I wasn’t  going to do this in one tack. So out I go again for a frustrating night of fickle winds from 0 to 25 and further backing inshore.  It took two more tacks to position myself to safely pass between Todos Santos Islands and the mainland. I was getting pretty tired, it was 02:00h and the wind was increasing again. I positioned myself to ease off a bit and was doing about 9 knots in 20-25 kts of wind as I passed the islands and crossed the bay to the harbour entrance. I was very tempted to just sail through the harbour entrance and drop my sails inside in calmer waters. Not being able to see inside clearly and never been in there before I decided it wouldn’t be smart to go in blindly so I dropped the main outside in the swells and very slowly, at just above idle, made my way into Cruise Port Marina. I arrived at 04:20h and, after securing the boat, went to sleep.

Ultegra safe and sound in Ensenada

Ultegra safe and sound in Ensenada

The next day I got checked in and was assigned a slip. I walked over to check it out and met Doug and Cindy Monroe on Sparton from Oregon. They were very nice and asked if I would need help with my lines. I said great and went to move Ultegra over. When I got close I saw about eight people standing by.  They grabbed the lines and I was secure in no time. I was still pretty exhausted and while sitting in my cockpit with a glass of wine contemplating my navel and making a mental plan Doug came over with a plate of tuna, veggies and rice and said, “you looked tired so we made you dinner”. Wow! What a reception!  The next day I was invited to join the Friday Happy Hour on Kick Back by her owner Karla. KickBack is a classic 81 ft wooden power yacht.

SV Kickback

SV Kickback

Since then, Ultegra’s engine has been removed, taken to S&W Diesel in Long Beach CA, rebuilt, returned to Ensenada, dropped back into the boat and, as I write, is being aligned by a great mechanic, Pancho, at Baja Naval.

Now, the funny thing that happened on the way to the colosseum: on my third day in Ensenada this very lovely lady from New York walked down the ramp behind my boat to start a work/stay on KickBack. We met the next day and, well, things have changed. Sort of. We kind of hit it off you might say.  As a result of this and the great community here, I am going to delay my trip back home and hang around here for the summer. We’re going to head into the Channel Islands for a month and if things work out we plan to head back south when hurricane season ends. Probably spend the season in the Sea of Cortez again and are thinking of heading south to Panama where Gerri’s daughter is serving in the Peace Corp.

Life is full of surprises!

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  1. Douglas Monroe says:

    Glad to have you as a Neighbor and a Friend, Dennis and Gerri.
    Doug and Cindy, s/v Spartan

  2. Hugh Bacon says:

    Well done Dennis! We sailed a Beneteau 440 (cutter rigged) around the world and loved the vessel which kept us out of trouble at least most of the time. With your newly rebuilt engine you should have lots of reliable motor sailing. One thing though, having had to rely on sail for a while, you will probably agree that the necessity for raw sailing was a great experience! Hugh Bacon

  3. Gillian &Mike says:

    What a great ending, Dennis! Have a great time and keep us posted.

  4. Helen Roberts says:

    Thanks for the great story Denis. I’m glad things turned around for you.

    Helen