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SV Bear North and the Baja Haha

John and Vici Kortbeek

Bear North
Hans Christian 48T
January 15th, 2024

The Haha promised a gentle sail south along the west coast of Baja, accompanied by several hundred fellow sailors and one hundred sailboats. Great company, beautiful remote anchorages, and a couple of parties to boot. Too good to miss, so we signed up for the experience. But first we had to get to the starting line.

Our boat was docked in Victoria in front of the Empress Hotel, after a spring and summer spent cruising north to Observatory Inlet and back. My brother Frank and I welcomed aboard our seasoned crew, Allan Bell and Neil Watson, for the trip to Ensenada. We set off for Port Renfrew in mid-August to time our departure from there. On August 18, with the North Pacific High locked in position, we set sail, choosing an offshore route to Ensenada. The voyage did not disappoint, with great wind and following seas. The light wind days averaged 15 to 25 knots. An exhilarating three days on starboard tack was followed by a gybe that headed us for L.A. We arrived in Ensenada on August 30.

We had booked moorage at Marina Coral. They were wonderful, and guided us through the one-stop shopping for immigration, securing the Temporary Import permit for Bear North, and dealing with the miscellaneous required documents and forms. Ensenada is on the cruise ship circuit and offers numerous restaurants as well as exceptional wine tours.

Bear North at anchor in Bahia Santa Maria

The Baja Ha-Ha is a two-week cruisers rally from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas, which takes place every fall. The rally consisted of three legs: SanDiego/Ensenada to Bahia Tortuga, onward to Bahia Santa Maria, and a finish at Cabo San Lucas. The rally divides boats into divisions based on size, hull(s), and weight for some informal racing. The Haha officially starts in San Diego, but welcomes boaters who wish to join from Ensenada. So after a brief trip home, we flew to San Diego for the official start and registration, then crossed the border at Tijuana and cabbed it back to Ensenada.

The first leg was characterized by light winds and we motored about half of it. We had a spot of engine trouble a few hours out after noticing water in our fuel/water separators. We drifted engine-less with no wind for about an hour, while Frank and I swapped out the external and main engine fuel filters and purged the system. We were reassured as fellow Canadians and BCA members Counting Stars were following us and checked in by radio.

Fresh tuna for dinner!

The tuna gods with were with us on this leg as we caught two good size fish and served up fresh ceviche! The rest of the trip was uneventful (for us) with eventual downwind sailing under code zero and main. Unfortunately, one boat was less fortunate. Boat Bum Gal had, by accounts, lost their chart plotter and entered the harbour at 0200h, hugging the north point. The boat struck the rocks and sank quickly. Fortunately there is a small fishing village in Bahia Tortuga and the locals responded to the mayday with a timely rescue.

Bahia Tortuga featured a fun and spirited baseball game, with the cruisers facing off against the much younger and talented local kids. After the game, high fives all around and the cruisers’ ball equipment was donated to the kids. A great BBQ and get together was held on a nearby beach the next day.

Baseball field in Bahia Tortuga with the Baja Ha-Ha fleet in the background

On the second leg, we sailed Bear North well offshore (100 nm) looking for better wind. We did not find it, but to our amazement were visited by a blue whale. What a sight! We managed to arrive in Bahia Santa Maria after several days sailing in 8 to 12 knots. The large bay featured beautiful beaches. The local fishermen took the day off to ferry us through the surf to enjoy time ashore. The evening party was the main event, complete with a live band from La Paz, and a good time was had by all.

The wind finally showed up for the third leg, with the start delayed by for several hours waiting for conditions to calm down. We enjoyed 15 to 25 knots for this passage to the finish line near Cabo. Well almost! The wind died, going from 15 knots to nil when Bear North was within 1 nm of the finish line. Well conditioned by years of sailing lasers on Alberta lakes, the racing bug took over and we nursed our boat over the finish line, taking well over an hour to do so, at 0200h. The accomplishment of this feat was to provoke some serious eye rolling from my wife, Vici.

BCA members and their crews celebrate their Baja Ha-Ha division prizes. From left: Denis Heinrichs, Rosario Passos, Campbell Good, Judy Townsend, Frank Korbeek, Vici Kortbeek, John Kortbeek, Jennifer Handley

Los Cabos itself was as promised. Warm with beautiful beaches and clear, warm turquoise water. The wind-up party was a blast. Bear North managed a 2nd place finish in the Enchilada division. The best prizes were for unique qualities, however. One woman impressed by delivering authentic examples of the snoring of each of her three senior gentleman crew mates. Definitely a night to remember.

Last of all, I would be remiss in not mentioning the wildlife. Ubiquitous and strangely beguiling pelicans, daily visits by pods of dolphins, and incredible tuna fishing.

The Baja Ha-Ha Cruisers’ Rally has been organized for over thirty years by Richard Spindler and the tradition will carry on in 2024. Dates for the next rally have been published and registration is now open;  for those who are considering this opportunity, details can be found here.

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