For the last month and half we’ve nestled in beautiful bays and in the lee of rugged points along the pacific coast of Baja California and Baja California Sur. We’ve frequented friendly villages, inviting waves, and colorful rocky reefs. And while these destinations were worth the price of admission the journeys themselves merit mention. I suppose there are some who sail as a means to travel great distances without the expense or the limitation of fuel. But because it takes a great deal of time to travel from one place to another (we can literally jog faster than we can sail) a person on a sailboat must enjoy the simple act of being blown across the great blue… or be a masochist. Jonah and I love to sail, love to feel and slowly understand the rhythms of wind and sea, love to learn the nuances of Orion’s movements, love that engulfed on all sides by water we become the reef which all manner of pelagic life is attracted.
Thankfully we are getting much better at this sailing stuff. Conditions that caused stress at the beginning of the trip are feeling more like second nature these days. Night watches in anything other than flat calm conditions were difficult for me at first. Just leaving the warm safety of the cockpit to make adjustments or to douse a sail in bumpy conditions (while Jonah peacefully slept) had me crawling along the deck, white knuckles on the rigging, tethered to the boat in two places. Not so much anymore. There was no aha moment…. I just grew more comfortable. Now I love the sweet, silent solitude of the night, particularly out of the cockpit, lying on the deck greeted by familiar constellations, being hypnotized by the bioluminescent wake trailing behind us. We have been lucky. For nearly the entire way south we have had somewhere between 15-30 kt of wind at our backs as we travel “downhill.” We are heading in the ideal direction for the prevailing winds; the opposite trip north is aptly named the “Baja bash.” We’ve been slowly figuring out the best sail configurations, which as a surprise to us means using very little sail. We have primarily been only flying our jib, giving us plenty of speed, easy control, and the ability to head dead downwind without the worries of jibing the main. We reef it in when it’s gusting 30 kt, we pole it out when it’s blowing 15 kt (unless we are flying the gennaker). It’s mellow and easy to handle in the middle of the night. We were flying too much sail early on in the trip making Orion harder to control. Glad to have figured it out when we did.
The thing about being the only bump in a sea of flat is that everyone wants to come check you out. We have lots of visitors… mostly birds. It is so much fun to not only get to do a bit of bird watching but to know that they are people/boat watching too. They are flying over to see what we are, perhaps what we have to offer. We have had the same the couple of albatross hang out for the better part of a day, circling us with their great expansive wings. We called laysan and blackfooted albatross, black-vented shearwaters, brown boobies, red-billed tropic birds, magnificent frigatebirds, and several species of gulls and terns neighbors as we’ve glided through their grounds. Since we left Moss Landing we have been greeted by an endless number of grey whales on their great migration to Alaska. We love to see them, though they are generally not too curious about us as they travel along their massive journey. We see their blows off in the distance, sometimes their smooth dark grey backs as they slide through he water, and then they’re gone. And the dolphins! Sometimes a couple will show up out nowhere, grace us with their playful presence, race in the bow wake for a moment, and disappear. Other times we see hundreds off in the distance, the water aboil with their tails slapping, their wild leaps, their synchronized dances. We can drive right by their masses or be a few hundred meters away and they will invariably see us, dash over by the tens, and surf the bow wake, racing each other to the front of the line, diving out of the water before us, egged on by their companions. This never ceases to amaze and delight us. It has been known to completely pull one or both of us out of an ugly or dull funk instantly. Marveling at dolphins will never get old.
The fishing along the way has been pretty epic. We generally have a line or two out in the water as we sail at perfect trolling speeds. Sometimes we purposely change course to travel over seamounts that we see on the chart (areas of 100-400 ft depth rising out of 1000-3000 ft depths) and sometimes we just forget about the rods for a day or so until we suddenly hear the ZINNNNGGGG of the line. Our meals have included pelagic species such as yellow fin tuna, yellowtail, and bonito. We are grateful to be able sustain ourselves on this amazing resource and are careful not to take more than we will reasonably eat. We are delighted to be eating better and fresher than we have done in years.
Our best sail so far was a four-day trek from Ensenada to the Islas San Benitos, which was our longest passage yet with just the two of us. It was great sailing with pretty steady 20 kt winds blowing from behind us for the first two days, so we were moving right along. We were doing three-hour watches day and night (we now do at least four) so we never really got more than two hours of sleep at a time. Generally, the overall look and feel of multiday passages is that of basic survival. We are sleep deprived, eating poorly, dirty, and in states of minor delirium… but enjoying ourselves. The third afternoon of the trip the line ZINGed and we pulled our first fish onboard, a beautiful yellowtail, just as the wind died. The sun was beating down bright and warm and there was very little swell as we cleaned the fish and bobbed on the glassy sea. We had made a commitment to stop motoring so much and do more waiting when there is no wind, so we hove to and decided to make a day of it on our floating island paradise. We fired up the grill and had a feast and afterward decided to jump in the water for a little pelagic bathing. The water was crystal clear, chilly, and over 2000 feet deep! What a feeling to open our eyes to look below and see the blue fade off into forever knowing how small and insignificant we are! We Were Plankton! We strove to keep thoughts of Guadeloupe Island, a mecca for large white sharks only 125 nm to the west of us, at bay. As we laid around drying in the sun we decided it would be fun to have a couple beers and get a good nights sleep- both of us at the same time! We were 60 miles offshore and hadn’t seen another boat for at least a day. We remained hove to in the light breeze, set a radar alarm to warn us of a ship coming within 20 miles of us, and set an alarm to wake us up periodically to have a look around. We climbed into our actual bed (we usually take turns sleeping in a small settee berth with a lee cloth to keep us from rolling out while underway) and got all warm and cozy. And then we laid there…. for hours… wide eyed. We eventually got some fitful, unfulfilling rest, interrupted by an hourly wake up alarm. We just couldn’t relax enough to sleep in the middle of the ocean knowing that no one was in charge of the boat. We put a lot of trust in whoever is on watch and we hadn’t appreciated until that night what peace of mind that gives us. A lot of folks do it. Hundreds of single-handlers are sleeping while their autopilots drive as I write this. But it’s just not for us… at least not yet. Good to know. We got back underway at dawn, quickly followed by a light breeze, and continued, with puffy eyes, our fabulous sail to the islands.