Pick your window and try to wait until July when the coast is calm! This is the advice people give on tackling the trip up the Baja Peninsula. That and take as much diesel as you can carry. We fully intended on heeding all this advice. That is until Andre, Blanca and Carlos. The three hurricanes that threatened the peninsula in as many weeks with Andre forming the end of May before hurricane season started. After running to Mazatlan to get out of Blanca’s way, we started the first leg by heading back to San Jose on the peninsula to wait for a good window. 32.5 hours, 175 nm
Unfortunately projections showed Carlos turning in our direction though still very far south. So we were faced with the same situation we had with Blanca. Not wanting to sail back 175 miles in the wrong direction back to the sweltering heat, we decided to start the second leg and go north. The only problem was the weather window was not as good as we would have liked. Our plan was to make only one stop at Turtle Bay for fuel. Making the right hand turn at the bottom of the peninsula to start heading north is notorious for being difficult. In the wee hours of the morning we pushed through 25 knot winds and 30 knot gusts on the nose with waves crashing over the bow in hopes that as predicted we would get out of it in a few hours. NOT! High winds and rough seas kept up and at some point during the night the meter that gives us our wind speed and direction quit working. We rode to the top of cresting waves only to come crashing down on the other side spray covering the cockpit and us. If you were down in the cabin, you got lifted right off your feet so we both spent the entire night in the cockpit. And the cold. Once we rounded the bottom to head north the temperature dropped down to the 50’s. What a shock after the 90+ degrees in Mazatlan. After 30 some hours with no sleep we decided to stop at Magdalena Bay. At 198 nm this would be our shortest leg up the peninsula. On a good day we would estimate 36 hours to complete, 43 hours if not so good. It took us 41.5 hours. And to provide even more adventure the anchorage was seven miles inside the bay and just as we approached it, the sun set. So we had to pick our way in the dark past seasonal fish pens, fishing boats and sailboats to find a spot to drop the anchor. But it was calm and quiet for the first time in 41 hours. And we had company. Six other sailboats also made the trip during that time and arrived just hours before us.
Fueled up, rested and with a good weather window we set off on our third leg to Turtle Bay 260 nm away. Calm seas and light winds took us all the way through until around 8:00 pm the second night. Since leaving Magdalena Bay we were in radio contact with another boat leaving at the same time. During the course of the trip we learned they were short on fuel. We offered to transfer some fuel to them since the seas were calm. It was certainly doable even in a dinghy with the flat seas. He thanked us but thought he could make it with three gallons to spare. Really?! When the wind and seas picked up after dark on the second night, the captain radioed that he felt he was not going to have enough fuel to reach Turtle Bay. He tried sailing but couldn’t make forward progress. I suggested a nearby anchorage where he could get help the next morning but he brushed it off. So I woke Gary and we set out to find the other sailboat. Difficult because they had no AIS and we could not see them on radar. They insisted they could see us and had turned around heading in ‘our’ direction. Long story short, they were headed for a 122 foot motor boat and were going past us in the wrong direction. When we got this straightened out we ended up back tracking a few miles to their position. By that time we were in heavy seas and while Sereno II was steady, their boat was pitching all over the place. After several attempts at coming along side us the other captain came up with the idea to head to an anchorage. The very same one I suggested three hours earlier. We parted ways and a few minutes later we were back in calm seas and winds that took us right into Turtle Bay by noon the next day. 48 hours 20 minutes, 260 nm
The same six boats in Magdalena Bay were in Turtle Bay. We had a two day wait on weather so we all caught a water taxi to the village where one of the few restaurants agreed to open and cook us fish tacos. The owners brother runs the fuel dock and water taxi service. They have quite a gig going with the north and south bound cruisers stopping by. Turtle Bay is the only convenient fuel stop on the entire west coast of the Baja Peninsula outside of Ensenada and Cabo. During the course of dinner they ran out of cerveza’s so they started serving us free margarita’s in every shape of glass imaginable. Turtle Bay is very remote and the shelves in the small grocery stores are mostly empty.
Our fourth, final and longest leg started out with dense fog. With radar and AIS going we headed out. I was standing in the companionway staring into the fog while Gary was at the helm. We both saw the fishing boat going too fast for the conditions at the same time. He was as startled as us and came to a stop motioning behind him as his friends in another boat came roaring up swerving off our bow. They took off a lot more cautiously. Soon the fog lifted and, with the exception of a few hours during our second night, had a fast sail into Ensenada. We arrived at the bay just as the sun was rising and were in our slip by 6:30 am local time. Too early and tired to celebrate, but a cup of hot coffee on a still boat was wonderful. 49 hours, 286 nm
With the exception of those 41 very long hours, we count ourselves lucky. Some were in sustained winds of over 30 knots for extended periods, one boat had their dinghy shredded in the wind and lost the outboard along with it. Another had their drive shaft bolts sheer off, while another somehow got water mixed in their diesel so were attempting to sail the entire way up. Now you know why the trip up the Baja Peninsula is known as the Baja Bash. While this was quite an adventure, it will be our last Baja Bash. Once we head south next fall, there will be no bringing Sereno II north again on the west coast. I wonder if there is a name for the north route up the east coast?