Cabo San Lucas

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  Part 2
Dolphin in the bow wave.

Late April 1999: I return to Driscoll's Boatyard to find Steve and Cisco loading supplies for the trip. Departure is imminent, but dozens of last minute details remain.

The push to get through the Panama Canal and north out of the Caribbean before June 1 also meant some items had to be deferred until the trip got underway. The first leg, a 740nm run to Cabo San Lucas, will surface any weaknesses. At a speed of just below 12 knots, the trip will take around 64 hours, and the plan is to drive straight through. We'll depart late Sunday morning, which will give us a daybreak arrival into the Los Cabos, Mexico area.

Comings and Goings

We did a shakedown run Saturday, filled the fuel tanks, then buttoned up for the departure Sunday. The shakedown showed problems in the navigation components, so we scrambled Saturday night to retool to an IBM PC/Garmin 48 GPS /Maptech system. We're still not hooked into the autopilot, and have to set heading manually and correct periodically for drift. This is an adequate way to make the entire voyage, but we'll revisit the system in Cabo San Lucas. We had some more chart work to do, the final food run, and many small last minute items, but it was time to move on.

Steve works into the fuel dock

The Bunker Hill arives San Diego
A submarine slips into San Diego bay

We slipped lines Sunday at 9:15 a.m, passing the inbound aircraft carrier Bunker Hill returning from 9 months at sea. The compliment of 3000 sailors might partially offset the drop in the local economy caused by the Kaitlin's departure. Our trip was shortlived, however, as we soon learned that the stabilizers weren't working and returned to the dock, this time passing an outbound submarine. We got the stabilizer system repaired by late afternoon, and once again put to sea, this time at 6:15 p.m.

A few miles south we crossed the border to Mexico, pushed past the Islas Coronadas, and into the gloom of the night. The trip had finally begun.

We eased into a routine for the trip. I'd man the bridge most of the day, with occasional breaks, where I'd navigate, keep the helm tended, and work electronic issues. Steve and Cisco worked the long list of chores below decks, a familiar area for them. At midnight we'd go into two hour watches, until daybreak. Sleep was fitted around the watches until midmorning, when everyone was back awake.

Turtle Bay

On this trip one immediatly notices how cold it is compared with the same latitude on the east coast. The water is 54F with colder spots. The air is slightly warmer than that during the day, but chills quickly at night and jackets and bridge heat are required. This remained true until the bend in the route at Cabo San Lazaro, around latitude 24 (below the Florida Keys if on the east coast), where a slow warming trend began. I'd left a steamy Florida and was bound for the even hotter tropics, so had only one set of cold weather clothing. I wore it 8 consecutive days.

Also noticed is the starkness of the shoreline. Big cliffs of brown rock rise starkly out of the ocean, with great depths right up to the cliff.

Kaitlin at anchor at Turtle Bay

Most places on the shoreline are unapproachable by boat or by swimming. The surf would just pound you into the cliffs.

Monday broke cold and gray, and the 5 foot seas we'd departed in were clearly building and shortening up on our stern. By midafternoon seas were running 10' and we'd sometimes swing through 60 degrees before the autopilot brought us back on course. We also decided we had a insufficient fuel to make the complete leg, so plotted a new course, to Bahia de Tortugas (Turtle Bay), the only fuel between San Diego and Cabo San Lucas, and only 330 miles into the voyage. We arrived at 10:30 p.m., where entrance was uneventful, despite being a strange inlet at night, and in a big surge. We anchored up and waited for daybreak.
Refueling is exciting in Turtle Bay, since you can't tie up to the dock. The drill is to anchor the bow off and swing the stern back perpendicular to the dock and toss lines up to the dockhands. The fuel hose is then retrieved back to the boat using the heave lines. It would have been a real challenge in the 25 knot winds broad on to the beam, but some sort of midmorning lull diminished the winds and we fueled in a temporary calm.
The fuel stop was a false alarm, but a mixed blessing. We learned we hadn't burned as much fuel as we thought, but then we didn't carry as much as advertised either. The saddle tanks were 542 gallons, not 750. We could have made it to Cabo San Lucas, but we only carried 2200 gallons, not 2400 as we thought, which will be meaningful when taking on longer legs later. Since the winds built to near gale force, the stop saved us a lot of grief. The right result for the wrong reason. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

Kids play soccer near Turtle Bay pier

That afternoon boats began filling the small bay. Interradio scuttlebutt announced that the winds were building and seas would reach 12' overnight. We decided to lay over until Thursday morning, then resume the trip. We went ashore in a local panga, toured the town, ate the tacos del carne with cold cerveza at the pink Vera Cruz hotel at the top of the hill, and returned to the Kaitlin to ready for the next leg.

Wednesday broke clear and windy. We raised anchor at 7:45 after the last hot meal we'd see in a while and headed out of the bay to begin the 408 mile leg remaining. Seas were down to 6-7 feet and still on our starboard quarter. By afternoon they'd swung around to nearly astern and we'd surf down the front with a gain of a several knots briefly.

The final run

We set night watch and marched on down the coast, making the last course change at Cabo San Lazardo at 2 a.m, finally S/E and inbound on the 180 mile leg to Cabo Falso, before rounding up into Cabo San Lucas harbor.
Rounding this cape brought a very noticable change in local environment. Besides getting some shelter from the now north wind, we also got into a warming trend in the water, and a change in sea life. Waters warmed gradually from 54F to nearly 74F in 15 hours, and we were frequently surrounded by dolphins swimming in the bow and stern waves. We also saw two whales, either pilot whales or false orcas, many more birds searching the waters for food, and one of the ubiquitous seals surfing in our wake.

Cisco takes the helm

By 5 p.m. we were rounding the now familiar arch at Cabo San Lucas, and found slip space at the Baja Marina, near the inlet passage. Cabo had heated up since my last visit, and was 84 degrees. We tied off, and headed for shore. Tomorrow the owner would fly in and we'd go fishing.
Latitude 22+ and still dropping.
To be continued.................