Tuesday, November 11, 2014


October 22, 2014

Heading to Marina Del Rey with all my sailing gear plus enough clothes and essential food items to last until February made flying out of the question.  I took the Coast Starlight down the coast with my two big duffel bags, bedroll and daypack.  I felt like I was running away from home.  Scott dropped me off at the station in Martinez and the train left about 7:30 am.  Having spent the ten days or so prior to departure madly trying to complete projects around the house, it was nice to spend a leisurely day reading on the train.  We made good time, at first, and it looked like we were going to be early.  Then we sat on a siding in central California for an hour, waiting for the northbound train to pass, so I didn’t arrive in Van Nuys until nearly 9:15 pm.
Comet Was A Bit Disorganized When I Arrived

Tom Frillman, ground crew extraordinaire, met me at the train.  We had a quick deli sandwich (the same meal I ate when I arrived in LA from Columbia two months before) and then headed down to the marina.  Despite Don’s having taken everything off the boat to clean the previous weekend, belongings, boat parts, and tools were strewn everywhere.  We could hardly walk inside or outside the boat.  We worked on the boat for a couple of hours and I finally hit the hay around one in the morning.

October 23, 2014

I had come down a day early to do the provisioning, but decided to leave that for the afternoon because the last thing we needed was more stuff in the boat.  I spent the morning cleaning and stowing Don’s old dinghy and unwrapping and inflating the new, hard bottomed dinghy he had purchased for the trip.  All of Don’s friends stopped by to help.  When afternoon came, we had cleared a small amount of space in the boat and I took Don’s car to go shopping for non-perishable items and enough fresh food to get us to San Diego.  Comet has only a small refrigerator, so we planned to put our meat in a cooler with dry ice.  We wanted to wait as long as possible before buying the meat.  By the time I got back, Tom and Kathy had arrived and Andrea was in and out helping with the shopping for non-food items.  The worrying problem was that Don had installed a new fuel tank and the fuel wasn’t getting to the engine.  Don and Tom worked on it all afternoon and evening before finally discovering that the “Y” valve to select between the new and old tanks had been installed in the wrong orientation.  We were all very relieved when the engine roared to life and ran healthily.

Kathy had been hard at work constructing a dodger for Comet, but was having trouble getting her sewing machine to punch through several layers of heavy fabric.  One of Don’s neighbors was kind enough to set up his Sailrite sewing machine on the dock and she worked on the dodger until two in the morning.  Trish stopped by to lend her support later in the evening.  I passed out around one, having slept only four or five hours the previous two nights.

October 24, 2014

We had originally planned to leave for San Diego on Friday morning.  Later we amended that time to noon.  Noon came and went and we still weren’t ready to go.  Don had pulled the stitches out of a wound on his arm while contorting himself to work on the engine and needed to make a trip to the doctor before we departed.  Kathy stayed at home, diligently working on the dodger, but John, Nancy, Andrea, Emily and Shoshana were buzzing about, running items to storage, and shopping for last minute requirements.  When it became clear that we weren’t going to make it to the fuel dock before it closed, John and I made a couple of runs to fill jerry cans with diesel so that we would have enough fuel to make it to San Diego.
Don and the Ground Crew in Marina del Rey
It took a village to get Don underway.  Everyone on the dock had followed the preparations for several days.  Don’s friends made it quite clear that I needed to take care of “their Don.”  Kathy was still sewing and hadn’t had a chance to pack.  We decided to pick her up at her boat in King Harbor on our way south.  We finally pulled away from the dock at 8:00 pm to the sound of all the neighbors blowing air horns and waving.

We received a warm welcome from Kathy’s neighbors when we arrived in King Harbor.  Kathy still hadn’t packed.  We tied up across the stern of her boat and she passed all her belongs over the bow in paper grocery bags, before finally hopping aboard herself.  More horns and barking sea lions saw us away from King Harbor.  By 11:00 pm, we were on our way. 

We kept three hour watches on our way to San Diego.  I tried, unsuccessfully, to sleep until I came on watch at 2:00 am.  My watch was uneventful, but I found it difficult to stay awake despite music and books on tape.  I thought Jules Verne’s Off on a Comet was an appropriate book to listen to during this voyage, but it began to lull me to sleep after an hour and a half.  I switched to some lively music and just managed to keep my eyes open until Kathy came on at 5:00 am.  I slept soundly from five until ten.

Don Currie on the Way to San Diego
 October 25, 2014
San Diego Bay
Despite having left late, we made six or seven knots most of the way and arrived in San Diego Bay by two in the afternoon.  We stopped at the fuel dock to fill our tanks and were safely in our slip in the Cabrillo Isle Marina by three o’clock.  We still had plenty of boat projects to do.  Kathy worked on the dodger and I gave the boat a scrub.  We all worked diligently until it got dark and then we went out for a nice dinner.

October 26, 2014

Kathy’s boss lived on his boat in the Cabrillo Isle Marina and he was kind enough to lend us his car for the early morning.  We picked the car up at 7:00 and I went grocery shopping for meat and perishables while Don and Kathy made a quick trip to Home Depot for lumber and fittings to attach boards to the stanchions so that we would have a rack to hold jerry cans.  We were back in the marina by 8:45.  Don had to go to the skipper’s meeting.  Kathy and I stayed behind.  She worked on the dodger and I spliced new polypropolene line to our man overboard pole and horseshoe buoy.  We worked until 1:00 pm and then took a taxi over to West Marine to meet Don for the Ha-Ha kickoff party.

Giants Fans at the Ha-Ha Kickoff Party
This year’s kickoff party seemed a bit subdued to me.  There were some clever costumes, but most people seemed in a hurry to get back to their boats.  We stayed long enough to eat, drink a couple of beers and buy a few siphon hoses and t-shirts and then did our shopping at West Marine and called a cab. 

We still had lots to do on the boat.  I installed new hailing port lettering on the transom and removed the Calfornia registration numbers from the bow of the boat, since Don had gotten the boat documented and it was important to have the numbers on the paperwork match the numbers on the boat before we entered Mexico.  Don worked on installing the boards.  Kathy worked on the dodger.  Once again, we worked until it got too dark to see and then I made a quick dinner and we actually relaxed for a few hours before hitting the rack.

October 27, 2014

Kathy and Don with Comet in San Diego
Don and I got up early, but we had more trouble rousing Kathy.  They wanted to get the dodger installed before we left and Don had to finish putting up the boards.  I did a few things and then helped Kathy install hardware on the dodger.  The fleet started to parade at 9:30, the marina emptied out, but we were still working.  The rally officially started at 11:00, but we were still tied up in the slip, working on the dodger.  Finally, we determined that we didn’t have enough snaps to finish installing the dodger, so we put it on with what we had and finally left the slip at 12;30.  By 12:40, we had filled our jerry cans with diesel and were on our way.  We crossed the official start line at 1:20 pm.

Trying out the Asymetrical Spinnaker
We could hear other boats complaining about lack of wind over the radio, but we rocked along under sail at 4.5 to 5 knots, flying an asymetrical spinnaker.  It had been warm in the marina, but was cool on the water.  I went below to relax before my 4:00 watch.  I was delighted to discover that Don and Kathy considered cooking part of my watch time, so I would have the 4 to 8 watches, which are my favorites.  We had roast turkey breast with mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, and cranberry sauce for our first dinner underway.  The evening was warm, so I was comfortable until my watch ended.  I was tired and hoped to be able to sleep when I went below, but we had had to turn the engine on and the noise and general activity made it difficult to sleep soundly as I was occupying the quarter berth and my head was right next to the engine and electrical panel.

Kathy and Don Dousing the Spinnaker
October 28, 2014

I came on watch at 4:00 am and had a tough time keeping my eyes open.  Once again, my audio book worked more towards putting me to sleep than keeping me awake, so I switched to music so that I could occupy myself by singing along.  Although the CPT autopilot did a fine job of steering, I stood to keep myself from nodding.  The morning was cloudy, so the sunrise was unremarkable.  While there were no colors in evidence, the water did turn silvery like a sea of mercury just before the sun cleared the horizon.  I could see rain falling over the land, but we avoided the clouds.

The day passed uneventfully.  We saw a couple of large pods of dolphins.  There wasn’t much wind, so we motored most of the day except for several hours in the afternoon when we took a break from the noise and sailed so that we could enjoy the stereo.  I made tacos for dinner and we turned the motor back on.  Once again, the evening was fine.  I went to sleep after dinner and slept until 12:30 when they turned the motor off and rolled out the jib.  We managed to sail for the rest of the night, although we had to head far out to sea to do so.  I slept fitfully the rest of the night, as the wind was inconsistent and the sails banged around as Don tried to edge us closer to our desired course.

October 29, 2014

I came on watch at 4:00 am, again, and the morning was pretty much a repeat of the previous day except that we were sailing.  I elected to continue on the same course, although we were still sailing out to sea, because it was so much easier for Don and Kathy to sleep without the engine running.  At daybreak, I could see three boats, although two soon gybed and sailed over the horizon towards shore.  When Kathy got up, we gybed as well. We tried to check in via the radio, but were so far away that no one could hear us.   An hour or so later, the wind dropped and we reluctantly started the engine again, which allowed us to return to our desired course.  Comet has an especially noisy engine (or lack of sound deadening material.)  It is almost impossible to hear anything else when it is running.
The Coast of Baja California

The wind came up in the afternoon and we were able to shut the motor off just after 3:00.  We sailed all afternoon.  I made pork chops and baked yams for dinner.  It was a beautiful evening and, though the wind dropped somewhat, we sailed until we crossed the finish line for the first leg off Isla Natividad at 20:18.  I stayed up long enough to have a glass of wine after my watch ended and then went below to sleep.  The wind continued to die and they started the engine at some point during Kathy’s watch.

October 30, 2014

Don called all hand on deck at 12:30 because we had come upon a vessel drifting with a stalled engine.  The vessel, Cavale, was a Cheoy Lee 44.  They were drifting towards land and requested a tow.  We rigged a towing bridle and took them in tow, but no sooner had we overcome their inertia than we ran out of fuel in our main tank.  We switched to the second tank, but there was air in the lines and we couldn’t start our engine, either.  We were tethered together and both drifting towards shore.  Don worked to bleed the air out of the lines while I tried to keep from crashing into Cavale.  It was pitch dark and I had no steerage, so it was very disorienting and difficult to tell if we were nearing the shore.  It was a tense hour and we were all (on both vessels) relieved when our engine roared into life.  Comet is a stout little vessel and, once we finally got Cavale moving, we towed them handily through the entrance to Turtle Bay, following my waypoints from the previous year.  The last thing I wanted to do was to tow a vessel through a crowded anchorage in the pitch dark, so we cut them loose fairly close to the entrance and they immediately dropped anchor.  We continued somewhat further inside and dropped the hook amidst the outer row of boats at about 4:00 am.

Sunset in Turtle Bay
We all slept soundly until about 11:00 am, once again missing our check in.  We were moving a bit slow, but eventually made it ashore to the Vera Cruz Restaurant where the fleet was meeting for a festive meal.  We hoisted a couple of beers and ate a nice meal before trooping off across town to the baseball diamond.  Turtle Bay is a dusty former fishing village with mostly dirt streets and one Pemex station, but they are crazy for baseball and have a spiffy baseball stadium with an astro turf field.  A game was underway where everyone seemed to be on the same team and no one struck out (they were using tennis balls).  Many local boys played along with us.  Kathy, who is a former softball player, wanted to hit.  I acted as a designated runner and managed to make it home, although I don’t think anyone was keeping score.  Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

When interest in the game started to wane, we wandered back down the hill and stopped for a drink at Maria’s on the beach.  We headed back to the boat when the sun started to sink low and passed a peaceful evening aboard.

October 31, 2014

Dinghies on the Beach at Turtle Bay
We got up in time to check into the net at 9:00 am.  I started cooking right away so as to be prepared for the beach party at 12:30.  I made kalua pork and bacon slaw and then made an omelette out of leftovers for breakfast.  We had some trouble keeping the oven lit for some reason.  Due to trouble keeping the oven hot, the food wasn’t ready until 1:30.  Kathy and I left on a panga shortly thereafter, but Don stayed behind to wait for the fuel panga.

Beach Party at Turtle Bay
The beach party was held in the eastern part of Turtle Bay where there is a long, sandy beach and fantastic scenery of different color banded mountains and mesas.  A tangle of dinghies rested on the beach and the locals had set up a tent for food and beer and ice cream concessions.  A mob of people milled on the shore.  It took us nearly two hours to work our way through the food line.  I ran into my friend, Jim Mauldin, from the Single Sailors Association in Alameda and met his shipmates, one of whom turned out to be an acquaintance of mine from La Cruz.  The sailing world can be very small.

The party proceeded.  After the food, the kids threw water balloons at Richard, the Grand Poobah, who was unfortunately standing behind where Kathy and I were sitting.  We got pretty soggy before we determined what was happening.  There was a tug of war between men and women and a volleyball game.  Don never appeared.  We returned to the boat as shadows started to lengthen.  We found the fuel panga tied alongside and had to leap up onto the deck without the aid of the boarding ladder.  Once all of our tanks were topped up, the fuel panga left us and we passed a quiet evening watching the movie Gravity and drinking a bottle of cabernet.

November 1, 2014

Turtle Bay Sunset
I got up at 6:30 to boil water for coffee and be ready for the check in at 7:00 am.  At 7:00, Richard came on the radio to tell us that the combination of tropical storm Vance in the south and a strong high pressure system to the northeast was creating high winds and large seas along our course to Bahia Santa Maria.  Due to possible hazardous conditions, the fleet would remain in Turtle Bay until we could ascertain more about the path of the storm.

We spent the day on the boat, installing dodger hardware and finishing the hand sewing.  Don got one of the dinghy wheels installed.  The rest of the fleet amused themselves with paddle board races, domino games, beer drinking, and poker.  I made Tuscan chicken cutlets and roasted curried cauliflower for dinner and we lounged over cocktails for a couple of hours after dinner and then retired early.

November 2, 2014

We began the day with a long radio discussion about whether or not to continue south.  It looked like Vance was going to develop into a hurricane and then rapidly diminish.  The hurricane wasn’t expected to come anywhere near us, but there were strong northern winds forecast.  The issue was whether to go right away and possibly sail in high winds or wait for lighter winds, but have to sail in hurricane swells.  The fleet was split about 50/50.  Richard was adamant that any boats continuing on would not be a part of the Ha-Ha.  The fleet heading south renamed themselves the Bravehearts.  The Bravehearts (about 40 boats) mostly consisted of large, newer boats.  We were tempted to go, but knew that they would soon leave us behind and we would find ourselves alone, so we elected to remain with the fleet.

Boats at Anchor in Turtle Bay
Kathy and I spent the first half of the day working on the dodger, hoping to be able to go ashore for dominos at 2:00.  Don and I got the dinghy launched and motor mounted, but the fuel hose then developed a leak.  Kathy didn’t feel very well and went to sleep.  I took a short nap, Don fixed the hose, and he and I went ashore about 4:00.  We were anchored quite far out and it was a long, wet ride to shore.  We survived our first dinghy landing with the help of the boys on the beach who charged us a dollar to watch the dinghy and help us land and launch.  Someone else was eager to relieve us of our bag of trash and two bucks.  We had a beer at the Playa Deposito and then strolled up the dusty street to the San Martin market where we found a reasonably good selection of produce and I was able to buy a jar of decaf instant coffee.  The sun was getting low by the time we got back to the beach, so we hopped in the dinghy, got launched by the beach boys, somehow managed to avoid hitting the rocks with our motor, and zipped back to the boat.  The wind was at our backs, so it was a much drier ride home.

The avocados didn’t survive the dinghy ride, so I made guacamole and then started preparing spaghetti squash with a red meat sauce.  I took a chance on preparing the squash in a pressure cooker and was delighted to find that the squash was done by the time I had finished making the sauce.  We cracked a bottle of red wine and enjoyed our dinner.  After dinner, we listened to James Taylor music for an hour or so until everyone started nodding.

November 3, 2014

Richard came on the radio at 9:00 am with the news that we would be leaving at 10:30.  We had our hands full getting the dinghy aboard and everything stowed so as to be able to weigh anchor and leave with the fleet.  Everyone was glad to be underway, at last.  The high pressure systems to the north were sending wind blasting south towards the low of Hurricane Vance.  Winds were 15 to 20 knots and the seas five to six feet and rather confused.  We put a reef in the main, but still charged along at something like seven knots.  The wind and seas increased as the day progressed.  We had wanted to stay close to land where the wind and seas were  less pronounced, but were unable to do so because we would have been taking the seas on the beam.
The Fleet Charging Towards Bahia Santa Maria

By dinner time, things were quite lively below.  Piles of belongings covered the cabin sole.  Fortunately, Don had a pressure cooker.  I managed to make pot roast with sweet potatoes and carrots while the boat slewed up and over the quartering waves.  Things started to get wet.  We had to close the hatches and the occasional wave would even splash me in my quarter berth.  My quarter berth extended forward to become the bench for the chart table.  This had its advantages and disadvantages.  I could talk on the radio and check the instruments without leaving my bunk, but it also meant that I could receive a face full of water or the odd flying tea kettle from the galley across from me.  We dubbed the passage, “The Night of the Flying Tea Kettle.”

November 4, 2014

By the time it got light, winds were 20 knots sustained, with gusts up to 27 knots.  We were rocketing along.  Fortunately, the wind direction changed slightly and we were able to correct our course and head in the desired direction.  We continued to sail all day.  The wind dropped somewhat in the afternoon and we were able to fly the headsail and even go wing on wing for a couple of hours.  We spied our first sea turtle.  Once again, the wind built as evening fell.  We rolled in the headsail.  The pressure cooker saved the day, again, as I used it to prepare corned beef, carrots and potatoes.  When dinner was over, we were only a few hours away from the finish line, speeding along under reefed main alone, happily enduring 18 to 20 knots of wind in the absence of the previous night’s nasty seas.  We crossed the finish line for leg 2 just short of 11:00 pm.

November 5, 2014

I leapt out of bed about 1:00 am when the motor fired up, certain that we were about to enter Bahia Santa Maria.  Actually, we were still about 8 miles out.  I stayed up until we got there.  The moon was nearly full and it was quite beautiful, although rather chilly.  We saw some bright lights at the mouth of Bahia Santa Maria.  At first, I thought it was anchor lights, but eventually the anchor lights resolved behind the lights at the entrance.  My next thought was that it was fish pens, but it turned out that there was a fleet of 21 fishing boats, lights ablaze, working the left side of the entrance to the bay.  The anchor lights of more than 100 boats looked like a city in the distance.  Don and Kathy kept referring to the “city lights” and I had to keep reminding them that the only “city” in Bahia Santa Maria was the Ha-Ha fleet itself.
Moon Over Bahia Santa Maria

We finally dropped anchor in the northwest corner of the bay about 3:00 am.  After anchoring, we sat in the cockpit, shared a bottle of red wine, and watched the moon set behind the rocky peaks as boats trickled in behind us.  We went to sleep just before 5:00 am and slept until Richard woke us up to check in about 9:00.  

We spent a leisurely morning.  Miraculously, Victor and his family still managed to produce our beach party, band and all, even though we were two days late in arriving.  We went ashore by panga and had a nice meal of shrimp or grouper and lots of cold beer.  The Ha-Ha class of 2014-2015 was not made up of party animals.  There was very little dancing, but lots of surfing on the beach below the bluff.  Kathy went back to the boat early to work on the dodger and Don and I took a walk down the beach.  The sand spit between Bahia Santa Maria and Mag Bay is covered in dunes and mangroves.  It would have been fun to spend a few days exploring, but we had to cut our visit short due to our extended stay in Turtle Bay.  Don and I also left the party fairly early.  We returned to the boat, but spent the rest of the afternoon lounging in the cockpit, listening to the band and enjoying the warm sunshine and beautiful view.  Bahia Santa Maria was brown and dry this year, but still starkly gorgeous and isolated.  It was the cook’s night off, so we munched on leftovers and went to bed early, knowing that we would be getting an early start the next day.
The Ha-Ha Fleet in Bahia Santa Maria

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