T he perfect sail from Cedros Island to Turtle Bay was still firmly imprinted on our green sailing minds as we calmly motored through the center of Turtle Bay channel with 60' below the keel. It was 10:55 am, the sky was smog-free blue and the barometer was 1023 and rising. My naÔve amateur meteorological analysis said it was to be an ideal "lazy sailors trip" with lots of excuses to wake up Sven, our 75 hp Volvo Penta diesel.
As we passed Punta San Pablo, a small breeze picked up out of the NW and stirred my reluctant self to haul out the Genny, our big, light-wind sail, and hank it on. An hour later, the breeze became stiff wind, and I had trouble keeping a straight course with all the sail up. I've never figured out why someone hasn't invented a sail that adjusts itself to the wind. There's heart pacemakers, sunglasses that get dark in the sun, air conditioning, and Pentium chips. But I still have to crawl to the bow, unclip a sail, somehow get it in a bag, and clip on another sail. And it is guaranteed that you'll have to perform this stunt right at the time when the bow that is pounding up and down in an intense effort to dunk you and then throw you overboard. So on goes a smaller, heavier sail called a working jib, and off we go again. The wind continues to build, and the sea and I get more confused. There is a huge high pressure system, not a cloud in the sky and a rising barometer, so why this weather? I had forgotten one thing - those annoying "local phenomena". Since they are local you usually don't know about them until it's too late, as in our case. As it was, the wind grew to 25 knots by sundown, the sea began to break, and the swell reached 11 feet. The autopilot couldn't handle the following seas (or so I thought - I have trouble thinking a computer will do a better job than me) so I was clinging to the helm dreading the long night. Now most sailors love wind, but wind and huge swell, and breaking cross seas from directly astern just wear you down. The rolling, banging of sails and rigging, crashing of stuff in cupboards, and constant bracing of the body and mind, sap the energy from every sailor. At one point around sunset we looked back and saw this huge monster of a swell rolling toward us. We turned and looked at each with blank pallid faces and said in sync, "we're dead". Only to find that Sojourner would simply rise her bum (stern) and surf down the face at 9+ knots. Physics geeks tell us that our hull cannot exceed 7.5 knots because of fluid dynamics or suchlike. I'd like to take a whole bunch of physicists on a tour from Turtle Bay to Mag Bay, and get them to change the laws of dynamics. I think they'd agree to anything at that point.
Thirteen hours later I was still clinging to the wheel, and had insisted on doing two complete watches. Deep down I wanted Jen to get plenty of sleep so that she didn't say "to hell with cruising". As usual I had underestimated her, and was playing up to my macho self. She took watch as I was falling asleep on my feet, so I collapsed into our cozy "sea berth" and died. Out of desperation several hours before, I had switched on the autopilot, only to find that it had a better handle on the conditions than I. My damaged ego was soothed by the fact that I was able to doze for 20 minute periods. We set a kitchen timer to wake us to check the radar and horizon.
While everything else on the boat attempted to pulverize itself with the violent motion, I lay in the berth, supported by cushions on one side and a "lee cloth" on the other(a piece of canvas tied to the floor and ceiling). I dreamt of 50" TV's, Jacuzzis, fireplaces and a floor that doesn't move. Only to wake with Jen shaking me saying "Steve, we've hit the rocks". I lurched up, gasped for air and fumbled for my foulies and harness (more jargon for wet weather clothing). I looked around and nothing was floating, and the socks I was clutching were dry. As I came out of my delirium she was saying, "it's OK, it's your watch". Jen had made me coffee, the sun was shining and we were still afloat. She had us perfectly on course. From then on we started to get in the groove and swing with Sojourner and every wave.
The wind continued and the swell got bigger. Jen spotted a Mexican Navy ship about 2 miles off our starboard bow which had somehow crept up without us noticing. Since this was the first ship we had seen since leaving Ensenada, I decided to make contact on the VHF. I hailed on channel 16 "Navy ship, Navy Ship, this is the sailing vessel Sojourner". After a long pause came a reply, "dis is Mexican Navy warsheep, to sealing vessel". I replied "Mexican Navy Ship, this is the sailing vessel Sojourner en-route from Bahia de Tortugas to Bahia Magdalena, requesting weather report". Another long pause then "wait aaaa momento". Eventually they came back with "dee wayther weel stay same". Not satisfied at this detailed report I questioned "will the wind increase, remain constant, or decrease?". I think that was a tough one because the pause was several minutes. Then the info came; "we was heeer beeefaw, and dee wind was da same". Assuming this meant it was a normal local condition, I thanked him wholeheartedly for his assistance. He replied "you are very welcome, pleeze you cawl eef you need any aseestance". But that small offer made all the difference; it's a huge ocean and we truly felt more at ease knowing that friendly help was there if needed.
Throughout the day we became more tired and Jen got progressively more lethargic and weak. She had been unable to cook in the conditions, and the lack of food and sleep were taking it's toll. I was at the helm and suddenly Jen dived out the companionway toward the lifelines and shoved her head through to feed the fish. She was not tethered so I grabbed her harness with one hand and held the wheel with the other as she paid homage. She turned around and looked at me with half open eyes and white face as if to say "just kill me". I knew at that point that this was one of those lowest of lows of cruising, and it could only get better.
And sure enough it did. The wind lightened, the sea relaxed, I made Jen chicken soup with a Dramamine chaser, and we started to dream about Magdalena Bay. next night was just as rolly, but we were more into the groove, and took it better. On Jen's sunrise watch Cabo San Lazaro came into radar range at 24 miles and our spirits soared. As we past the point, the wind died and we woke up our old buddy Sven. Time to charge the batteries and make use of 100 amps of alternator power. I fired up the watermaker and directed the pure water into a 6 gallon Jerry can. We purposely don't have it going into the main tanks in case a membrane ruptures and contaminates our fresh water with sea water. So every 5 hours I empty the jerry into the water tank filler on deck. A simple task at the dock, but not so after only 2 hours of sleep in 48 hours, and huge Pacific swells. Our diesel filler and fresh water fillers are identical except one is on starboard and the other on port. I won't repeat what happened, except that to my sheer horror after listening to the gurgling of 3 gallons worth, I realized I had done the unthinkable. In San Diego we had spent $120 and half a day to get our fuel polished (purified free of dirt and water)and I had just poured 3 gallons of fresh water back into the fuel. Screaming profanities I quickly shut down Sven before the water hit the injector pump. Then spent the next two hours pumping the milky mixture from Svenís stomach into Jerry cans. Once it was appearing clear red, I re-bled the system and awoke Sven.
By now Mag Bay entrance was in sight, Gray Whales were blowing and lifting their tails all around us, dolphins were in the bow and nothing, dare I say it, would stop us now
We'll continue the story from Mag Bay.......