A small weather window opened up and the next night at 10pm we hastily weighed anchor and set sail to Cabo San Lucas. Seas were calm as we exited the huge entrance to Mag Bay, and motored into the six-foot NW swell. The phosphorescence in the a water was intense, and our wake was like a huge trailing green neon tube. About 2 miles out I shut down Sven and put up the genny. As we were gliding along at 6 knots, I saw dolphins alongside, clipped on my harness and went to the bow. What must have been a pod of over 100 were fighting to take turns riding the pressure wave under the boat. As they crossed the bow at high speed they left "rocket trails" of luminous green through the black water. Off their beaks and heads, showers of light were emanating, causing enough glow to see their eyes as they swam sideways to look up at me. From the deck I could hear their high frequency squeals, and imagined that they were saying "hey, get over here, there's some great surfing going on and one of those weird humans watching". Jen was fast asleep below; I wanted to wake her but knew it was dangerous for someone barely awake to be crawling along a pitching deck. Still, I was sure she would see this incredible sight soon. Something about dolphins alongside seems to lift the spirit, and they always seem to appear when you need them the most.
So I was all set for a smooth sail to Cabo... then the wind picked up and things changed quickly. Down came the Genny, up went the working jib, a reef in the main, and hand steering downwind. The night got wilder and wilder as we exited from the shelter of Cape San Lazaro and set out on the last stretch to the tip of Baja. I got more and more depressed as the seas built and swells of 10 to 12 feet barreled down again from directly astern. I was sailing with the moon for the first time since setting off, but was beginning to wonder if it was a good thing. As the swells grew the moonlight reflected off the face and warned me of every approaching monster. At least on our last passage it was so dark that I couldn't see what was about to hit us and, consequently, the stress was less. No matter how I set the main, the swell would swing the stern around so that we were constantly in danger of jibing (where the wind catches the backside of the mainsail and slams the boom across the boat, causing huge stresses on the rigging). I set a preventer (to hold the boom in place) and tried to steer at an angle to the wind that would reduce the obnoxious rolling motion. Only problem was that it was taking us 30 degrees from where we wanted to go. So there we were, forced to tack downwind with 28 knots of wind! Our speed was incredible, Sojourner would lift her behind on each monster swell and surf at up to 9.2 knots down the face, then sink in and slow to 4 knots in the trough.
It was a long night but I got into a rhythm with the motion. At least the wind was strong enough to keep Sojourner fairly stiff in the water, so that the rigging wouldn't bang too much as we rolled on each swell. I woke Jen for the sunrise watch and was even too tired to drink the cocoa she made. I was nervous since we were tacking down the coast and would soon be in the vicinity of .... Bank. Jen would have to set new courses each hour so that we would avoid the banks and not come too close to Cabo Falso. It was the first time that she had been on watch without a straight GPS (satellite navigation system) track to follow. She'd have to use dead reckoning and then do regular plots from the GPS coordinates to confirm the track. All my worries were dissolved as I sank into a deep sleep in the sea berth. With my knees jammed into the lee cloth and shoulders into the cushions, even the biggest swells didn't budge me.
By the time I had begun my only night watch of the trip to Cabo, the seas had calmed somewhat and the wind had lessened. For what seemed like the first time for me at sea, I was overcome with a sense of contentment. The night was beautiful with its full moon, and I did indeed see the dolphins with their phosphorescent trails. They were very quiet when they came, but I soon noticed the glowing streaks moving in toward the boat from where I sat in the cockpit. I could hear the faint splash of them jumping in front of the boat, and excitedly started forward to the bow to see the show. Suddenly, I stopped in my tracks and remembered my promise to Steve that I would not go forward without him in the cockpit, even if I was harnessed. But, I needed to cheat, just a little, so I crawled along the deck to about amidships, and watched the iridescent dance of the dolphins from there. They stayed for some time, and then vanished into the darkness.
Finally, it felt as if some essence of a rhythm was forming. I was gradually learning more about sailing and navigation, and Steve would actually go to sleep now when I was on watch. As I sat there in the cockpit I thought about how in such a short time, we had seemed to go through so much. It has been said that cruising is a serious of extremes, with extreme highs and extreme lows, and thus far, we have had our share of both! At times the unfamiliarity, the difficulties and unexpected situations are a challenge; yet experiences like the dolphins somehow make it all seem worthwhile.
When the 15 minute alarm when off, I stood up on the seat, harnessed in, and did my usual scan of the horizon. There sitting low in the sky at 180 degrees was a group of stars that appeared to be a cross. I thought about where we were in relation to the southern hemisphere, and wondered if this could be the Southern Cross, like the one in the song by Crosby Stills and Nash. Something about this was exciting; probably because in the record they claim, "when you see the Southern Cross for the first time, you'll understand why you came this way"....Well, I guess the answer to that question is a process of an unfolding journey. All that mattered to me at that moment, was that being under the moonlit night, and star-filled sky was exactly where I wanted to be.
After what seemed minutes, Jen woke me for the next watch. Nervously I checked the charts and GPS, and what I found made me realize that Jen had graduated into an offshore sailor. We had tacked downwind perfectly, and the chart had accurate position fixes for each hour. There was a proud gleam in her eye as she briefed me on the navigation and events of the watch. As she snuggled into the berth for her long awaited sleep I watched her in admiration. She had given up a secure and comfortable life in Carlsbad, CA, for a crazy adventure in a tiny rolling boat on the Pacific Ocean. Most women I have known would have said to heck with this a long time ago, but Jen hung in there and decided it was worth a try to see if paradise really was waiting for us in the South Pacific. I sure hope for our sake that it is!
I decided to steer 5 miles off of Cabo Falso, since it has a reputation much like Point Conception. This, the Southernmost point of Baja California, acts as a wind tunnel, concentrating and accelerating the prevailing north westerlies around the tip and whipping up the seas into nasty chop. As I started to make the turn, the wind became a beam reach (wind from the side) and was gusting to 28 knots. Waves were breaking and slapping against the port quarter giving me regular saltwater showers, and waking Jen with the jolt as Sojourner was "shoved" by each of the crests. About 30 miles from Cabo I noticed a large sausage- shaped blip on the radar about 12 miles astern, and decided to keep a close eye on it. It closed in on us and maintained the same relative bearing, meaning it was on an intercept course. Through the binoculars I saw a floating city approaching us from behind, threatening to pinch us into Cabo Falso. I hailed them on the VHF; "large ship 42 mile SW of Cabo Falso, this is the sailing vessel Sojourner". The obviously American crew responded quickly with, "Sojourner, go to 14". I changed VHF channel to 14 and heard, "Sojourner, this is the passenger vessel approaching Cabo Falso". I responded, "Passenger vessel, this is the sailing vessel Sojourner, we are 6.28 nautical miles off your port bow, I wanted to confirm that you have us on radar". "Negative Sojourner, we do not have you, but we will maintain a lookout for you". "Roger that, I'll put on all lights, and thanks for your assistance" After that I switched on every light we had, including the 500W deck lights, masthead light, Nav lights, and cockpit light. Sojourner was like the Mirage hotel, and yet they still didn't see us. The ship continued on it's track and I turned left 20 degrees into the wind. Sojourner healed strongly as we headed more into the wind, and she pounded over the breaking seas. I needed to reef the main again, but couldn't leave the helm with the cruise ship so close and the conditions so rough. So I luffed the main (adjusted it so that it caught less wind) to ease up on the strain, and just slowed the boat slightly. As the huge luxury cruise ship passed on the starboard side, the sky was getting lighter as the long awaited morning came. Clinging to the wheel, in full foul weather gear, with freezing salt water showers every couple minutes, I contemplated calling the captain and asking how much a ticket was. Warm light streamed from the port holes, and the ship was perfectly smooth in the water. I'm sure the mimosa's being served with breakfast had a perfectly horizontal meniscus. Then the VHF crackled; "Sojourner, we have a visual on you; you are passing along our port beam at a quarter mile" I replied; "Passenger ship, Sojourner. Negative, we are 2.3 miles off your port beam. That must be another sailing vessel!" a short pause, then; "Roger; we don't have you. Have a pleasant sail. Passenger vessel clear"
With that I learned a valuable lesson early on in our journey. Even if you tell a big ship exactly where you are, chances are they will not see you or pick you up on radar if the sea is rough. Strange thing is that I can pick up other sail boats in the same conditions on our radar, and one would assume theirs was infinitely more sensitive. It must be related to height from the water or something. Whatever the reason, it is unnerving.
By now the sun was glowing amber on the horizon, and to the left the rocks of Cabo San Lucas where silhouetted against the red sky. I cajoled Jen out of bed with a promise of dinner in Cabo, and hot showers in the Marina. We cut in close to the rocks to see the hallmark of Cabo, the famous arch, but were surprised how small it actually was. As we rounded the point, the sea calmed and we were at last out of the relentless Pacific swell and into warm calm waters .... at least that is what we were told!