To the Turtles

We were anxious to leave Ensenada after a three week stay. Sure, we are in Mexico and that has been a goal for some time now, but Ensenada is “barely Mexico”. It has been nice but we still want to get further South, fast. While there are a few options to day hop down the coast line, we chose to make one long jump to Bahia Tortugas, some three days sail away. This helped in the “fast” department as opposed to stopping and hanging out in each port for a few days along the way.

Just after sunrise we were leaving the dock at Ensenada, with our new found buddy boat (SV Oregon) in a close chase. We had talked the previous night about the plans and hoped to stay in touch over VHF during the long passage. That plan quickly fell apart as Meriwether and crew chose to go further out into the ocean than Oregon and crew. We had lost sight of them well before sunset, and VHF was not able to reach out far enough. So we were on our own but for the occasional blip that would appear on the AIS-apps showing their progress compared to ours. Mind you, this is our first passage with the StarLink. Having the ability to download weather and AIS information of surrounding boats was fantastic.

SV Oregon and a cargo ship in the distance as we sail further into the ocean

It took half the first day for the wind to fill in as forecast. For once, the forecast proved mostly accurate too, which is extremely rare. We chose this window specifically for the wind. 25 knots, on our beam (side) nearly the entire distance. The sea state would not be ideal, but when there is wind there is a less than comfortable seas. I was not deterred, but Kerri was not pleased with it. We do not sail in 20+ winds often, and usually only for a short period of time before finding some place safe and calm to anchor. This time we would not have that option to run and hide, and we had two full days of a stiff breeze to contend with. All the better if you ask me.

Our typical plan is to reef our sails (less sail area out) come sunset. No one likes to be surprised by extra wind at 2am, so we plan ahead and reduce those sails. Already using our first reef during the daytime, we second-reefed the main and headsail. It made no difference in boat speed. We were flying! Meriwether scoots right along in 9 knots on the beam, and now we had 25. She was still moving right along well over 6 knots most of the time, and we were in no real rush.

Night came and we sailed through it and the frisky weather that we were in. I had figured going 40+ miles off shore would help us avoid any other boat traffic out here, but that ended up backfiring, as it placed us directly in the unmarked shipping lane that all the larger ships used. At least we were not going to run into some tiny, unlit panga this far out. The direction of the wind kept us pointed slightly to the West. Not ideal, but we had days to wait for a wind shift to point us to our end destination. At least we were not heading into land.

The forecast warned us that each of the two overnights would bring an increase in wind in the early morning hours. The first night, during one of Kerri’s watches, the wind picked up exactly as forecast. What it failed to forecast was the downpour she got. Unable to leave the wheel – we were forced to hand-steer in the worst of the weather – she just stood out there getting soaked. I woke up from all the extra noise and was able to relieve her to get into dry clothing. On the second night the wind showed up on schedule too. This time no rain, but the wind brought its entourage too. We were in the thick of it, with winds coming at us in the low 30 knot range. Waves crashed over Meriwether, bringing sea life with each. In the morning we had a half dozen or more small squid on our decks. This would haunt us for weeks after. Experienced sailors we are, but not really in 30+ knot winds. So, we chose to turn our back to it and run, which worked out for us just fine. Sure was good to have two reefs in the sails. Meriwether was thoroughly coated in salt by now. Every inch of her that we touched rubbed off a visible layer of crystals. After the 279 mile passage, she would need some serious cleaning in the coming days.

After two full nights at sea, we chose to anchor in the lee of Isla de Cedros. It was always an option to anchor here if our arrival into Tortuga would be after a sunset. It was, so we chose to wait and get caught up on some sleep. It had been a very long time since we anchored in the wild, and it felt damn good to be in a bay with no one else around. Our buddy-boat made it to the windward side of the island a few hours before us – shorter distance and all – and did the same as us there.

The final leg – from Cedros to Tortuga – would take place a couple days later. It started nicely with a three hour sail, but by afternoon the wind would abandon us and the ol’ Perkins would fire up for another four hours to bring us to our new home; Bahia Tortugas (Turtle Bay). It was this small (yes, an 8 hour sail is now a small one) passage in which we officially entered Baja Sur, and marked our half-way point down the Baja coast line. Already the ambient temperatures of the day were noticeably changing. The sun brought warmth for the first time in… well, forever. The water was changing from a deep, dark blue to more of a teal. We were definitely getting there.

We stayed a few more days recuperating in Bahia Tortugas. We left the boat only once. Kerri dropped me off on land to find some groceries while she returned to the boat to work. Both of us figured that we had visited this little town in our past life in the van, so we chose not to do any real exploring. This, unfortunately, proved to be wrong but wasn’t realized until well after we left.

There’s that trope that it’s about the journey. Maybe, big picture, zoomed way out, there’s truth in that for me. But in all of our years of traveling, it’s the getting there that I’m about. Especially on the boat. Some people just love sailing; they sail just to sail. Sailing, for me, is a terribly miraculous and energy efficient way to get from one remote place to another while being able to take a shit-ton off stuff along.
Most of the time, it’s tedious. Most of the time, it’s tiring. Most of the time (and this might be a product of having only ocean sailed so far in the coastal northern Pacific) it’s uncomfortable. If there’s wind to sail, it’s usually accompanied by plenty of swell and waves. If the seas are calm, you’re not going anywhere, or else you’re going with the overwhelming drone of the motor.
There are moments — the sunset and sunrise. The stars against a black sky can keep your attention for a while. The dolphins that decide your bow wake is interesting enough to hang out in for a spell. The occasional whale. The bioluminescence. The mystery lights at night and guessing what sort of obstruction they may be. And if you watch enough social media, you might think that’s what it’s all about. But that’s about 5% of it. On multi-day passages, the other 95% is mostly about just trying to stay awake and not fall over, and to make sure you eat and drink enough. And we’ve only done three-night passages max.
We’ve done a lot of 3-nighters and a lot of 1-nighters, and this was our first 2-nighter. For me it was probably the worst amount of nights for unideal sea states. Too much time to think about how long it’s going to be until we get there, but not enough time to get into the groove.
This sounds like a whole lot of complaining. That’s not the intention, and I’m thrilled to have the freedom to get around this way. It’s just my reality. I’m looking forward to (maybe in a year, maybe two, depending on how long MX and maybe S. America decide to pull us in) that the looong crossing to the South Pacific, with trade winds and periods of calm seas, and weeks of acclimating to living while under way, might offer a new perspective. – Kerri

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1 Response

  1. Rob says:

    That was a really good read, the two different views of the passage was excellent.
    That sunset photo is nice!

    I’m enjoying the coming warmth as you head south, the “..well, forever” line was worth a smile. I’m a huge fan of being in warmer water.
    Looking forward to your next posting!

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