Ambassadors for all we America was. Apologists for all America is.

The 2012 Baja Ha-Ha . . .San Diego to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

On October 29, 2012,at about 11 am,  Spiritus joined the outgoing, south-bound Baja Ha-Ha fleet.  After the trip south from Oregon, we felt better  prepared for this leg of our journey.

We had rested for a day and a half.  Boat was clean again and reprovisioned for food and fuel we had used on the way south to San Diego.  All of our clothes were clean.  And, we had fresh vegetables, fruit, and breads.

Everyone had made contact with loved ones by phone or email.

We continued to have troubles with the handheld VHF.   But with the addition of a speaker for the cockpit, it is not as necessary.  Will still be an issue if the crew takes it ashore and needs to talk with boat.

Back up GPS ( a Magellan … oldold Magellan) failed.  So we replaced it with a small handheld Garmin GPS map 76Cx.  I have nothing but good things to say about this small color unit.  It even took a map-chart chip from my larger GPS unit to give us maps of Mexico (YES!).

In case you are not familiar with it, the Baja Ha-Ha is an annual gathering of 150 or so southbound boats.  Loosely, but very well-organized, the group travels to Mexico “together.”   Some think of it as safety at sea in numbers, some as a fast foraging party fleet, some as a not-to-be-missed annual event that they have been a part of for years.  New boats, old boats, big boats, small boats, the old, the young, the very young, sage and clueless alike, the fleet makes its way along the coast of Baja like a living thing in search of sun, water, food, sex, and good times.

Crews composed of family, friends or acquaintances, workmates, other adventurers, or nearly complete strangers contacted thru Crew Needed or Position On A Boat Sought ads  or the Singles Pages for sailors where sailing can and sometimes does substitute for sex.

The 1% and the 99% all traveling together.  The well-to-do, the ne’er-do-wells, the self-sufficient and insufficient–all moving together in a common search for a chance to do “something else” with their lives and time.  The vacation of a lifetime or the start of a lifetime of vacation.  It is hard to capture the spirit, camaraderie, and soul of this event.  So if you are curious,  “Just Go Do It”!

Here, I will add a note.  I am a relatively new sailor and this was my first-ever Baja Ha-Ha so take any opinions I express as just that  … opinions.  If the information contained is useful, use it or ask questions; if not, comment to that effect or ignore it.

We, Spiritus, or at least me–as owner–chose the Baja Ha-Ha because I had never been to Mexico or any place by boat other than the US; and I had limited experience in off-shore sailing of any real distance.  At least, with a fleet (even one spread over a hundred miles of ocean or so) we were never truly alone.

The Baja Ha-Ha:  You register.  You get forms.  You fill them out.  You make sure you have insurance.  You make sure you have up-to-date passports.  You go to San Diego.  You go to the Captains’ meeting.  If you are smart, you “get your visas and temporary import papers (TIP) for your boat” at the West Marine hosted meeting (we didn’t). You get a big set of instructions (most of which is advertising).  You throw away everything but the three or four pages you actually need.

Read Latitude 38’s “Baja Ha-Ha First Timer’s Guide to Mexico 2012.”  You read it again.  Again.  Again.  And, again! Then, put it somewhere on the boat where  you can easily find it.

The organizers hosted a dinner for everyone (tickets required and can be purchased if you need more).  Get to know fellow sailors.

Slept the night before parade of boats and exit from San Diego.  This is a big thing for the San Diego boating community and for the town.  News outlets watch and photograph the parade and gathering at the starting line.

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San Diego to Ensenada

Because we were not prepared to clear into Mexico in San Diego, our first stop would be Ensenada, Mexico.  There, we would have our first encounter with Mexico’s government and people.

What we needed.  Boat registration, titles, Coast Guard registry (if you are registered with them), same thing for your dingy, proof of insurance with Mexico coverage.  Passports for every crew member.  Copies in color, when needed, of everything above because government offices in Mexico do not do free copies.  I cannot stress enough that you absolutely have to have the serial numbers of engines and motors.  I know this because my Volvo MD17d does not apparently have a serial number and this nearly stopped approval of my Temporary Import Permit.  But, I had a copy of a marine survey where the surveyor noted that there was no discernible serial number on the engine.  That survey saved me.

You can pay with pesos, which we did not have yet, credit cards, which we did have, or American dollars.

We arrived after dark, anchored to a mooring ball, and slept.  Next morning, it took us till noon to get all the paperwork done.  We were headed out of the harbor by 1pm.  Lost one hour because I forgot to tell them when clearing in that we were headed out that afternoon so I had to go back to the harbor captain’s representative and let them know we were headed to La Paz.  You need a zarpa or clearance document or at the very least permission to leave from the Puerto Capitán  before you depart a Mexican port to go to another.

My two favorite memories were (1) customs and the “inspection” process.  You visit them in the same offices as immigration, the government cashiers, the port captain, fishing license people, and the small business which makes copies for everyone using the government offices.  One of my best memories is that–once you’ve declared everything on paper–they then employ a unique system to decide whether to inspect your vessel physically or not by using a simple “traffic light” set on a small stand in the office.  You push a button in front of it that looks just like the big silver button you press to get the traffic light to change when you want to walk across an intersection.  If it turns “Green,” you are good-to-go and no physical inspection is required.  If it turns “Red,” you get to be inspected in person on the boat.   I only  have one simple question:  How do it know?

My second most favorite memory from Ensenada was trying to talk in my very limited Spanish with a government employee who felt no need to work with me in English.  I labored through all the problems using everything from a smile to ridiculous pantomime and frantically scouring my dictionary, only to notice as I finished, a small picture or her daughter in a frame with a grade school drawing next to it that said, “Love you Mom! You are the best mom, ever.”

My least favorite moment, much to the amusement of a very nice gentleman in Immigration was when he looked at me–no trace of a smile–and said, “This passport is no good!”  With the timing of a stand-up-comic, he waited as I broke out in a sweat. “It is not signed!”  He smiled.  He then gave it back to me to sign and handed me a pen.  I swear to God, any god, that if he’d waited 15 more seconds, I would have thrown up out of sheer terror of having screwed up and come to Mexico with an invalid passport.  Message:  Don’t lose your sense of humor. ( For just a moment, I flashed on the Cheech and Chong film Born in East L.A, where Cheech’s character is deported to Mexico and can’t prove he is an American because he doesn’t have a passport.)

Picked up two courtesy flags and looked for a yellow Q, quarantine flag.  The Mexican courtesy flags serve two purposes.  First, they show respect for Mexico as a culture.  While in Mexican waters, you fly the Mexican flag slightly higher than the US ensign.  Second, when flying them you are stating you have “properly cleared into Mexico.” Indeed you should not fly unless you have cleared in.  The yellow flag, when flown, lets a port patrol know you have not checked into their port with the Puerto Capitán yet.  It is sort of invitation for them to stop by and say “HI”!

While we were doing all this, most of the fleet was still sailing south for Bahia Tortuga (Turtle Bay), the first stop on the Baja Ha-Ha.  We rejoined them on November 2, 2012, checking back-in with the fleet to let them know we had been overnight in Ensenada for customs.

The crew revolted at having a dingy on board and a party on the beach.  I crushed the mutiny by casting them adrift.  We assembled the dingy and put on the outboard (after a few minutes of figuring how to get the brand new 3.5 hp Tohastu 4 stroke outboard to actually start.  There is a trick.  Read the manual.  (That was not a hint … that was the trick.)

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Favorite memory here.  The $20 USD that the crew paid for a pint or so of fuel because the panga  “had no change for a US 20.”    The next morning, we topped off Spiritus’ smaller fuel tank from a panga carrying diesel.

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Next morning at 8:00 am, we are all off to Bahia Santa Maria (not Mag Bay but close).

Bahia Tortuga to Bahia Santa Maria

Two days of cruising.  No major problems but discovered that the on-board SSB VHF Radio does not have the marine channels;  and it cannot be tuned to them as those frequencies are not visible.  (More on this later.)  The radio in question is an older IC 730.  Thanks to Dr. Electron, who sorted this out.

This means we cannot participate in the morning discussions, and more importantly, the morning weather as they are predominantly on the Marine SSB channels.  We can get some info at check-in time each morning if we are close enough to the fleet.  We monitor channel 69 now for the fleet and 16 US on the VHF for distress.  Turns out that in some parts of Mexico, channel 16 is also used by fisherman–so quiet nights are not always possible.

Arrived Bahia Santa Maria morning late afternoon of November 5, 2012.  Good sailing winds, only used the diesel to enter the bay and anchor.  In spite of fair weather forecast, winds that night exceeded 25 knots and we dragged anchor for the first time.  Fun things:  such as seating the anchor in the dark and wind, then staying up an hour or so to make sure it is good.

Exposed but good anchorages.  The entire community here is a few fisherman and families.  They get all supplies from outside so some interesting things can be traded.  Water is precious here.  Enjoyed in the fleet those calls for a trade for “coke” (clarified to be Coca Cola in cans) in trade for oil, diesel, beer, anything … an addict to Coca Cola had to be appeased.  One boat needed a start jump and it was arranged by radio.  The fleet can be incredibly giving and helpful.

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This is also the stop where a restaurant trucked in over the beach an entire feast … for the fleet!  It also brought in  musicians.  Surreal is the only word that I believe adequately described this party feast.  I think this is also where there was a crew-only party for those who were not parts of families but crewing.  Just adults and other crew members from many of the boats, so singles could meet someone in the same boat.  Well, actually from other boats traveling the same route.  It was a great idea.

Bahia Santa Maria to Cabo San Lucas

The last leg of the Baja Ha-Ha event.  Next to the last leg for us as we intended to continue on to La Paz.  We pulled into Cabo on the afternoon of November 8.  We intended only to stay as long as it took us to find 3 quarts of oil.  So much for intentions.

We anchored just off shore–outside the marina entrance–next to the beach.  Then the fun began.  We had a cruise ship on one side blaring “YMCA” and a night club on the other side playing the Pina Colada song and then hosting a wet t-shirt contest.

We tried hailing a panga to get to shore.  Horn–no effect, radio–ignored, whistles–ignored, shouting–ignored, spotlights blinking–ignored.  Finally figured out there were not enough on our sailboat to make it profitable to pick us up with the cruise ship behind us and all the back-and-forth traffic between it and the beach.

With it getting dark, the music getting louder, the jet skis coming across the beach near us, and the need for sleep and rest, I decided (over the objections of my crew) to put into the marina for the night.  GREAT STAFF!  Expensive but very good slips.  Staff literally walked us to the slip.

The only reason we got a slip is because at this point we were a day ahead of the fleet.  (We’d left a day earlier than most from Bahia Santa Maria.)  Our slip only cost us $65 USD per night which in Cabo is great.

I mean no offense in what I say next.  For me as an older adult, being “stuck” in Cabo for the night was like being stuck in the “It’s A Small World” site at Disney.  Lights, music, no rest, constant repetition.  Thankfully, we only had to stay one night.  Cabo has been discovered by the college kids, tourist crowd, and sport fisherman.  I truly hope it is not the future of all of Mexico’s port cities.

This is my opinion only and hopefully is not offensive.  It is certainly not intended to be.  For me, if all of Mexico or its port cities were like Cabo, I would have just kept sailing.  But, that is just me.

Next morning.  Problem to be solved.  Need to have oil to get to La Paz.  No Chevron like my diesel uses but it is same as Catepillar Brand oil for large diesel engines.  Every fisherman and the staff agreed.  It is only $35 USD a gallon (5 liters).  “Oh, it doesn’t come in smaller sizes?  Okay then, then… ouch!”

I will say one thing.  Cabo is one of the most beautiful harbors, or pieces of coastline I have ever seen.

Cabo San Lucas to La Paz

This is an hour and a half bus ride 80 miles or so by land.  Two and a half days by sailboat.

Unbelievably we had no wind, at least not enough to push the boat faster than 3 knots for the first day.  We motor.  First night we motor.   Second day afternoon, we finally get some wind and start sailing again.

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Lots of porpoises now under the bowsprit as we sail.  Everyone’s favorite place to rest is now on the bowsprit.  We have turned the stay sail and its sailbag into a beanbag chair on the bowsprit.  You can relax and watch the porpoises so close you would believe you could reach down and touch them.

Oh, a footnote here!  We had heard how much trouble the fueling was at Cabo.  Based on that info (which I now believe is old and inaccurate), we decided to make for La Paz with what remained of our fuel which adds to the adventure at the end of this chapter of the story.

We were now sailing the Sea of Cortez, thank you to John Steinbeck for his book of the same name which actually inspired this part of the voyage for me.

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We found our way north now rather than the familiar south looking route.  Funny how small things stick in your memories.  We had full moons on the way south to San Diego and parts of the trip down the Baja.  I always steered at night using Orion as it crossed the sky on those shifts where the constellation and I were up together.  I missed that the first night we turned north.  Just a small thing but seeing that constellation against the mast and rigging had been comforting for some reason.

We sailed again uneventfully till we entered the channel off Tecolote Beach in the early light before dawn of the morning of the 10th of November.  By bus from La Paz this beach is 30 pesos and 45 minutes.  It is, if I remember correctly, 15 kilometers from La Paz.  By sailboat it is still several hours north to the entrance of the La Paz harbor markings and channel.

This is where we learned several lessons.  The first lesson was about 20 knot winds from the southeast and 5 foot waves … oh, yeah … with a 2-3 second interval.  Those familiar with the Sea of Cortez will smile.  The second lesson is that the location of my fuel line in the tank intakes/uptakes is starboard.  You can ask how I now know this.  Simple, every time the boat heeled more than 10 degrees to port, the engine would sputter and stall out from sucking air in the tank.  Point the bow directly into the wind or tack out to sea and away from the La Paz harbor and it would run fine.  We were now making our way south and again into the wind and waves.  Everyone reading this in La Paz is smiling, again.

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We had one 5 gallon container of fuel left on deck.  Put it in the tank.

We finally see the entrance markers for the channel to La Paz harbor.  A few calls and Angela secured us a temporary slip at Marina de La Paz.

All I will say is that when we fueled at Marina de La Paz, later that morning , we had one gallon of diesel left in the tank.

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But, we were in La Paz, Mexico.

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3 responses

  1. Beautiful pictures, beautiful boat, great writing!
    Thanks- felt like we were there-

    January 25, 2013 at 10:22 am

  2. Phil Dickinson

    Excellent story …Well done ..Just bought an Ingrid 38 myself

    Phil Dickinson UK

    November 9, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    • Phil,

      Always glad to hear from someone who has found ‘their’ Ingrid. It is a great boat … I hope you enjoy yours. If I can help in anyway with info or resources, don’t hesitate to ask Have you discovered the Ingrid yahoo news group and the Ingrid info site … what is the name (old name too) of your boat. Or what is its hull number which might let me locate its history?

      Russ
      s/v Spiritus

      November 12, 2014 at 9:52 pm

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