This was our eighth crossing of the Sea of Cortez and this one was perfect. Our passages between the mainland of Mexico and Baja have ranged anywhere from 18 hours to 3 days depending on the route taken. On this trip we left San Carlos and headed due south to Caleta San Juanico. It seems strange to be on a heading of 180 degrees when you’re heading across the Sea, but when you look at a chart you realize just how much the Pacific Coast curves from west to east.
We left San Carlos in the afternoon as the winds picked up, pulling off the dock at about 1:30pm. It felt great to untie those lines and point Happy Dance out into the bay. Once past the channel we could see that the wind was steady and the swells were white capping beyond Punta Doble so we slowed down in order to get all the lines and fenders ship shape before we started hauling on sails.
We maneuvered around a fishing boat with lots of lines trailing, so that we could get Happy Dance pointed into the wind without running over their lines, then.it was time! Roll out those sails matey!
The mainsail is first; loosen the preventers, loosen the main sheet, set the outhaul on the winch, give the main furling line a single wrap on the other winch so that we can control it as it unrolls, point the boat so that the wind is blowing the sail slightly to port of center, now haul away! Once the main is all the way out, we set our course, and trim the sail for a beam reach. Now get those lines cleaned up, set the auto pilot, and turn off the engine! Ahhh, always a good sound.
The Genoa is next. Pull out the furling line and flake it, get both sheets loose, put the active sheet on the winch, take the furling line out of the clutch, and haul away! In this much breeze the sail comes out easily and it’s a test of my grip to let the furling line out slow enough for Marty to be able to winch it in. Then there is the final poof, and the sail is full. Trim that baby and feel Happy Dance pick up and run. Happy Dance is an awesome sailing boat and when the sails are full she responds instantly.
Some final trimming, course correction, get those lines ship shape, and yeeeeeehaw! We’re off! The sun is shining, the wind is blowing a nice steady 15 knots, we’re on a beam reach doing 7.5 knots and we’re exactly on our rhumb line. Perfection!
Crash! Hmmm, maybe we didn’t have everything stashed quite well enough, and the boat is heeling and bouncing along. The swells are on our beam so it’s a little bumpy. The pan lids under the stove are now sliding around on the floor, and the books on the table are heading that way too. The hatches need to be closed before we get a wave splashing over the decks. Okay, so we’re a little rusty on this sailing stuff and we still need to get our sea legs under us, but Marty heads below to set things right, get our PFDs and jackets and NOW we’re ready. Happy grins all around!
San Carlos quickly becomes a memory as we enjoy the awesome sailing conditions. This is what cruisers love; a strong enough breeze to power us along, sailing with the wind and swells behind us, and heading on the course we want to go. The sun is out, the sea birds are dipping and diving in the waves, the water sliding past the hull is singing a lovely song, and the canvas is a solid bowl of wind pushing us along.
As the afternoon wears on the wind builds a bit more and the swells get steeper and closer together. Nothing worrisome, it just makes for a bit of an uncomfortable ride, so we reef the mainsail a bit to flatten the boat and give us some comfort. The ride evens out, and the speeds slows to just under 7 knots. Flying along at this speed puts us ahead of schedule since we want to arrive in San Juanico in the daylight, but we know that the conditions will change after the sun sets.
Pretty soon we can no longer see El Tetakawi (the distinctive rock formation of San Carlos called the Goat’s Teats), and the sky heads to twilight. The sunset is off to starboard, giving us a gorgeous red and orange show over the water. It doesn’t take long for the winds and the swells to quiet a bit so we roll out the reef that we’d had in the mainsail and continue along at 6 knots in 10 knots of breeze.
Surprisingly, the wind holds as the sky darkens. The quarter moon is turned on its back like a big smiley face in the sky and the planets start to liven things up by pretending to be tankers on the horizon. Get that radar on and check it out! Okay, that is a star, not a ship.
Time for a nap, Marty gets tethered in for his watch and I go below before my yawns break my jaw. It’s such a treat to snuggle into my bunk feeling the boat settle into gentle roll of the waves, and hear the water sluicing along the hull. I’ve finally learned to sleep when we’re on passages, so it’s not long before I’m sawing logs. Then it’s knock, knock on the hull, and I’m up to see what Marty needs. Oh, he needs his own nap, his shift is over!
I put on all the layers I can find, get my tether and PFD on, and head out. Marty lends me his hat and gloves and jacket, and I clip in, get the quick rundown on what’s going on, give him a kiss and he’s gone.
Now it’s just me and the moon and the stars. The moon is lower on the horizon and the moon beams are scattered across the waves in thousands of shimmering silver lights. The lights gather on my right side, and on my left side the stars compete. Whoa, did you see that falling star? I could almost hear it sizzle out as it fell.
Sailing in the dark can be overwhelming – sometimes scary, sometimes invigorating. This trip it just seems perfect. We each took two night watches and on my second watch the moon was gone and it was very dark. But once your eyes adjust, it’s amazing how much light the stars give. The horizon is visible, and the brighter stars and planets reflect in the water. It’s wild to watch the world turn and see the stars slowly sink into the water.
We were able to sail most of the night, a real treat as usually the winds die down so much that we have to motor through the nights. This passage though is just perfect and the 8-10 knots of breeze holds steady. The waves settled down too, so we had a smooth ride and held a speed of 4+ knots.
Okay, so it wasn’t completely perfect. The wind finally died around 6am and we had to turn on the engine, but the good part is that we were only about 20 miles from San Juanico. Marty went below for his final snooze and I enjoyed the sunrise. When you’re at sea the sun takes a long time to haul itself up over the horizon. The eastern sky turns a beautiful orange putting the western sky into a dark blue shadow. The horizon gets brighter and brighter, you can see the waves bending the lines in the distance and you think the sun will appear any second. It’s just teasing you though. But be patient, pretty soon the oranges pale to a light yellow and then one spot on the horizon starts to glow intensely. Keep your eyes on it, wait for it, wait for it.and then it’s there. A tiny speck of white light peeking over the flat line of the horizon. It grows quickly and pretty soon you have to look away. When you look back, it’s a full orb of light, blazing itself into your sight. Day has arrived!
We are close to shore now, so it’s nice to put sunlight on the shoreline and be able to turn off the radar. As we leave deep water and move into depths in the 100’s instead of 1,000’s we see a school of dolphins leaping and playing in the distance. They’re heading our way! A few break off from the group and head under Happy Dance as if to lead us the last few miles into the bay. What a perfect greeting.
There are fishing boats along the shore out for their morning catch, and we can see the cliffs of Punto Pulpito shining in the sun. Next is Punta San Basillio and we make our turn into the anchorage. What’s the over/under? Three? You take under? Hmmm, only two boats in the anchorage, so Marty wins. There are a few campers on shore too – that’s new.
As luck would have it a sailboat is in “our” spot between the rocks, so we move farther into the bay and notice that our second favorite spot has a boat in it, but wait – he’s pulling anchor! We dawdle a minute or two, then once he’s up and gone we head in and set the anchor. Put on the snubber, turn off the engine – we’re home! Because you know, “home is where the anchor goes down”!
So there you have it, the perfect passage. We sailed all but 3 hours, and the conditions were awesome. We’ll stay in San Juanico for a while, get our sea legs back, enjoy the sounds of the ospreys, grebes, boobies, pelicans, take some walks on the beach and get out those paddle boards. It feels really good to be back into our cruising life. Ahhhhh, la vida es bueno!