For those of you heading down the west coast and who like group activities, I would really recommend you register for the Baja Ha Ha Rally. This annual Rally departs San Diego for Cabo San Lucas in early November, arriving mid month. There is plenty of information on their website, but the best part is the assistance and guidance you get from the organizers. For our first time sailing into a foreign country, there was so much to do and be aware of. Especially when hardly anyone speaks English. It is nothing like the simple system for entering the US.
The Rally is administered by the Grand Poobah, Richard, editor and creator of Latitude 38 magazine. He does this from the 63 foot catamaran, Profligate, which acts as committee boat, race headquarters, sail loft for Ullman Sails and, as it turns out, makes a great platform for a dingy party and concert in a secluded Mexican bay. Much of the day to day footwork and tracking of the 125 boats is performed by the Assistant Poobah, Patsy on her Gulfstar 50, Talion. Richard makes it very clear that fun is the number one priority and it is not a race.
There are plenty of activities, workshops and parties prior to departure, during the Rally and afterwards. With swag, prizes and resources on hand to answer questions, this is a well oiled machine. The port of San Diego is very supportive, offering special moorage, anchorage and a race day parade with a water-spewing fire boat. Everyday there is a fleet sailnet and great support and help en route. Ullman Sails offers free sail repairs on Profligate. This was surprisingly handy, as many boats blew their spinnakers or gennakers in a squall on Leg 2. We suffered minor rope burns on our hands, trying to douse our gennaker.
There are three legs to the Rally: it stops in the secluded quiet fishing villages of Bahia Tortugas (Turtle Bay) and Bahia Santa Maria, and ends in the busy, noisy, expensive tourist city of Cabo San Lucas. If you anchor in Cabo San Lucas you have a very long and rough trip into the marina. Cabo San Lucas is a party town: boats, bars and restaurants blare dance music long into the night. As much as this drastic change of pace is, it is better than the anchorage.
You should register for the Rally early, the day they open it in early May, because your registration position dictates the order they assign the limited slips they have. When at the marina, which is the heart of this city, you will be constantly pestered by street vendors. I tend to engage with them and as it turns out that paid off. We were offered some shady deals through time share sales agents that netted us two buffet breakfasts, an awesome lunch, two small bottles of tequila, a Mexican blanket and US$250 in cash. Although we made it through that without buying anything, I am not sure I could sit through that kind of pressure again.
The Rally has a special “deal” with Mexican officials and you can wait to clear immigration and customs in Cabo San Lucas. You will need to get your TIP (Temporary Import Permit) beforehand in Tijuana or at a consulate in California. We rented a car from San Diego and drove to the border in Otay Mesa, California and walked across. We managed to find the Banjercito (Mexican military bank) and stumbled through the process. Once in Cabo San Lucas, we did our own footwork. The Port Immigration agent, Jesus, was great. He spent more time trying to tell us about his goddaughter buying something for him on sale at Walmart then he did processing our visitor visas. The Port Captain, on the other hand, was very serious but quite friendly. The Baja Ha Ha guidebook is extremely useful and explains the need to bring all of your paperwork, dress well and be super polite and patient. They also arrange an English speaking agent whom you may choose to pay US$70 to complete everything for you.
The fun continues after the Rally, with events in Cabo San Lucas and even a week later in La Paz. We were awarded second place in our division. I had to protest the award, since I motored almost all the time. I was told that their point system doesn’t lie and to “remember that you can even win first, if nobody else submits their time sheet!”