The trip to Hiva Oa was a nice upwind sail for about five hours. Johno hand steered as we made our way south. Once we were at the latitude of Hiva Oa, we turned left and motored into the wind for another twelve hours. We anchored in Baie Hanaiapa on the north side of Hiva Oa. There we were befriended by Noah and Ky from the sailboat Genesis. They stopped by our boat for a visit and then Dana, Johno and Marshall went over to their boat for sundowners.
The next day we joined them on a little expedition to the coast west of the bay. We anchored our dinghies and swam to the rocky, surgy shore to walk toward a waterfall. We couldn’t get all the way there without risking lives, so we went back to where we started on shore and got ourselves back to the dinghies. Later we all went to shore to walk around the quiet, picturesque village. At one house, a group of people were sitting in a circle, playing ukuleles and guitars. We walked a distance up the main road that leads to the other side of the island, enjoying all the rich vegetation and scenery. On our way back to the dinghy dock, we noticed that Migration was coming into the bay with Bruce and Alene onboard. Both dinghies motored out to greet them and invite everyone over to Aldabra for cocktails. It was a fun evening getting to know both couples better.
Because Migration and Genesis had already visited places we wanted to go to, we heeded their experience. A south swell was expected, and they warned us that the Tahuata anchorages would b e miserable. We had intended to go to the west side of Tahuata and then up to the south side of Hiva Oa, to provision in the town of Atuona. Instead, we rented a truck and started checking off what we wanted to do on Hiva Oa. We went into Atuona and bought provisions, we dropped off some laundry, got fuel, visited the Gauguin museum, got on the Internet and drove to Puamau to see the ruins there, having lunch at a nice place called Resto Puamau. The drive to Puamau was breathtaking as we wound down from the ridge to the coves on the northeast side of the island.
While the days were busy with errands and boat projects, we got together in the evenings a couple more times with Migration and Genesis. One night was game night and dessert on Migration and another was back on Aldabra for after-dinner drinks. Bruce also helped trouble-shoot issues I was having with Sailmail.
The next morning, those two boats left the anchorage. They were delightful company and we hoped to see them somewhere else along the way. We then did our final errands in town. We bought beignets from a little bakery, bought a few more provisions, filled the truck and some jerry cans with diesel, got a tiny amount of gas before the pump ran out, and hunted everywhere for Internet. Finding none, we went to a hotel on a hill above the harbor, the Hanakee Lodge, where they offered a package of lunch, wifi and use of the pool for the afternoon. The lunch of poisson cru was delicious, the wifi worked and the pool time was nice.
Afterward, we picked up our laundry and returned the rental truck to the owners, a very lovely, warm family that we would have liked to spend more time with. They were very touched that Johno had washed the truck and that we returned their one-month-old vehicle in the same condition as when they gave it to us. If we weren’t planning to leave in the morning, they would have had us come to their house for hospitality. We promised to contact them if we return to Hiva Oa.
On Friday, June 24, from our anchorage in Hiva Oa, we went west around the corner and south across the Bordelais Channel, which had lots of wind for our little crossing. We anchored in a small bay on the other side of the channel, on Tahuata, Anse Ivaiva Iti, just south of Hanamoenoa, which had too many boats in it. The bay was idyllic, with a nice, soft-sand beach. We swam to the beach and hung out for the afternoon.
The next day we motored four miles south to Hanatefau, an anchorage just to the north of Hapatoni. The anchorage is surrounded by a vertical wall of palm trees and other lush greenery. The anchorage was a bit crowded but we found a spot in about 50 feet of water with a sand bottom. It was quite windy during our stay, so I stayed on the boat the next day and Marshall, Johno and Dana went to shore for a walk. The following day, we hung out on the boat and swam at times with some pods of spinner dolphins that seemed to have made this bay their home. There were dozens of them and they hung out all day. We also swam with mantas that slowly moved around as we gawked with admiration.
At 3:00 a.m. on Tuesday, June 28, we left Tahuata, motor sailing down to the southern tip of the island in brisk winds. Once we rounded the tip, we pointed as high into the wind as we could, heading for Fatu Hiva. After about five hours of upwind sailing, we pointed dead into the wind, took the sails down and motored the rest of the way, another six hours in 16 knot winds and big swells.
On Sunday morning, June 12, we did a day sail to Ua Pou, about 25 miles south of Nuku Hiva. The island’s tall spires are stunning.
We anchored for a couple of nights in front of the main village of Hakahau. We walked around and found some stores and bought additional provisions. And we dropped off some laundry at the bakery. When we picked up the laundry the next day, we bought baguettes and took advantage of their wifi. Later that day we walked up to the cross on a hill for a scenic view before finding a restaurant for some poisson cru.
We explored a few more anchorages on the west side of Ua Pou. Baie Hakahetau was in front of a village. We joined Sarah and Bob on Rhapsody for a walk up to Manfred’s house to taste and buy his delicious chocolate bars. Then we walked to a waterfall and swam in the pool beneath it.
Baie Vaiehu was an uninhabited bay with good snorkeling. The last one, Baie Hakamaii, was in front of a picturesque village with no easy way to go ashore. We hung out on the boat until evening and then pulled up anchor to sail to Hiva Oa.
The tattoo festival ended with judging, awards, presentation of the winning tattoos and dancing by some of the notable tattooed people.
After that, Marshall and I busied ourselves with chores (such as changing the oil, getting cooking gas) and then took some time to go over to Daniel’s Bay (Taioa). There, we hiked up to the waterfall and had lunch at Kua and Teiki’s along with other cruisers, including Sarah and Bob from Rhapsody. (Kua and Teiki serve meals at their house in the village. They grow or catch most of what they use. They are both outgoing and Teiki especially has a big personality. He’s very animated and can pose as a fierce warrior. We also got fruit from them.)
On Sunday afternoon, June 5, we went back over to Taiohae Bay. The next morning, we picked up a nice 4×4 rental car from Regina (our guide Mate’s mother) and took a slow, scenic trip to the airport to pick up Dana and Johno.
Their plane was early and their flights had been easy. We then drove back to Taiohae where we could get them a bite to eat and let them swim. The next day, we took the rental car on somewhat the same tour that we took with Mate, Taipivai and then over to Hatiheu. At the ruins near Hatiheu, there was a brief dance performance for the benefit of the Aranui passengers, who had come in that morning. Then we went to the Chez Yvonne restaurant and ate the same traditional Marquesan meal that was served to the Aranui passengers. During lunch, several local musicians played and sang.
After lunch we drove back to Taiohae and stopped at a couple of grocery stores to provision. It was perfect timing because the shelves had just been restocked with supplies from the Aranui.
Once provisioned, we left the next morning to go back to Daniel’s Bay. We were the only boat in the anchorage that day and all night. Marshall and Johno fixed the propane tank fitting with parts that Dana and Johno had brought with them. They also put in the new transducer for speed/depth/temp so we now have accurate depth.
The next day, Thursday, Marshall, Dana and Johno hiked to the waterfall while I did some chores on the boat. I met them in the village for lunch at Kua and Teiki’s.
On Friday, Dana and I finished cleaning the boat bottom while Johno and Marshall fixed the disconnected wire that was preventing the motor kill switch from working. They first replaced the relay before discovering that it wasn’t the problem. It was a head-scratcher so they tried a number of ideas before sorting out the problem, a wiring one.
We all then went snorkeling. I swam by Rala (UK) to chat with Ian and Laura. And I stopped by Tohora (New Zealand) to meet that family, which had recently arrived from Hiva Oa.
The next day, after a quiet morning in Daniel’s Bay, we packed up our gear and headed back over to Taiohae to attend the evening gala and dance performance. It was kind of like a school recital. Evidently, there is a local dance school for women and girls that has been in operation for a couple of years and they now have five teachers. The performances were mostly by the students and teachers, with some guest appearances from other local dancers. We saw little girls, pre-teens, teens, young women and older women. All the dancing was special. The appreciative audience filled the hall, with lots of locals and expats, and kids happily running all over the room.
After arriving in Taiohae Bay on Nuku Hiva on May 5, we checked into the country, got laundry done, worked on some boat projects and familiarized ourselves with the town. Kevin Ellis of Nuku Hiva Yacht Services helped us with the checkin and made that very smooth. While hanging out at his office, we met and chatted with other new arrivals.
My sister Wendy then arrived on Tuesday, May 10. That same day I got my paperwork done for my carte du sejour (temporary residency) and we bought some provisions (after the supply boat arrived).
We pulled up anchor the next day and went around to the west side of the island, where we found a nice private anchorage with somewhat decent snorkeling.
We hung out there for a few days and then rounded to the north side of the island, to a larger anchorage (still by ourselves) in front of a gorgeous view of tall mountains and a lush valley. We went ashore to meet the folks living there. They allowed us to walk about their property and they gave us breadfruit, apple cinnamon fruit, oranges, lemons and pamplemousse. The next day I baked brownies and Marshall and Wendy delivered them to the family onshore. I baked bread. And we continued to putter around with small projects while not snorkeling or reading.
Our next anchorage was Anaho Bay, said by many to be the most beautiful anchorage in all of French Polynesia. It was more crowded than our other bays. There were about 13 boats when we arrived and it went down to eight while we were there. The first day we went ashore and asked Juliette whether we could come to her place for dinner. She said yes, so we went back to shore for a 6:30 p.m. dinner. I had poisson cru that was delicious.
The next day we got up early and hiked over a pass to Hatiheu Bay. It took a couple of hours there and back but we saw all kinds of plants and birds that we needed to identify. On the other side, we walked around the town and got some ice cream. The town is quiet and gorgeous.
We left Anaho a couple days later and went back to Taiohae to do a bit of paperwork and arrange a land tour for Monday. We got everything done in Taiohae quickly and set out the next morning for Controleur Bay. The first couple of nights we we anchored in front of Taipivai, where Herman Melville stayed as a young man. We walked around the town and a very nice many named Vena gave us a stock of bananas.
On our last day in the bay, we took the boat over to Hakapaa to find a trail to a waterfall, but we were unsuccessful. After hanging out for most of the day, we headed back to Taiohae in time to anchor before dark.
On Monday morning, we went to the gendarmerie to have Pat taken off the crew list for the boat. Then we went on an island tour with a great guide named Mate. We started by going up the mountain out of the bay and into the interior, which is rich and lush. The road led us back to Taipivai, where we visited an artisan center. From there we went back to Hatiheu where we toured the ruins of an old village and then had lunch in the town. I had poisson cru again because it’s so good! We also drove west up the northern coast to see Aakapa Bay. The tour ended at the Hooumi valley in Controleur Bay. It was a great way to see parts of the island we wouldn’t have seen by boat.
Wendy and Pat flew out the next morning and the supply boat came in. So Marshall and I walked around and scoped out grocery stores to visit the next morning, once the shelves were restocked. When we did go back, we stocked up on things we’ll need once we leave Nuku Hiva.
We have a couple of weeks before our new crew, Dana and Johno arrive. So we’re doing boat projects, doing laundry, cooking, getting fuel and provisioning.
Getting diesel and gasoline at the fuel dock was a bit of an accomplishment. You take the dinghy in surging seas over to a wall and climb up a ladder with your fuel cans. In our case, we made two runs with six cans each (120 liters of diesel and 20 liters of gas). After you fill your fuel cans at the gas station, you lower each one into the dinghy with a rope. The price was right because we had a duty-free certificate. And Pierre at the gas station helped us haul the cans to the dinghy and even into the dinghy.
Our reward for the fuel run was to attend a festival that was a celebration of the first graduating class of the Patutiki tatoo school. In addition to demonstrations of tatooing and carving and painting on tapa cloth, they showed a great documentary about the significance of Marquesan tatooing and then there was dancing, and it was amazing. We attended the next night as well. Spellbinding. I’ll try to post a video eventually.
During the years in which I’ve been talking about this passage, I’ve often said that I hope the passage is so boring that it’s completely devoid of any interesting stories. And be prepared to be bored, because that is pretty much the case.
Once we left the harbor in San Diego, we motored until the wind came up, which was about two and a half hours. I can’t remember what my exact thoughts were at the time, but I certainly wasn’t relaxed. On the way out, we faced big swells and chilly air. When the wind came up, it was 25 knots on the beam with big seas. We put two reefs in the mainsail and rolled in the jib a bit. That didn’t hold back our speed. We were off on a wild ride. The enormity of what we were embarking on, the cold and the big seas all kept me on edge. I found myself just coping, tending to each task that presented itself and waiting for the other shoe to drop. What was going to go wrong and how would we fix it?
I expected the first few days to be cold but conditions stayed that way for a good two weeks. Slowly, you get settled into the conditions and the routine of being at sea, functioning gets a bit easier, and the weather seems a bit more benevolent. The seas never really calmed down the whole trip, but as the weather got warmer, I started to relax a bit.
On the second night out, I decided to listen to music during my night watch. But toward the end of the new Jon Batiste album, which I was listening to for the first time, the rudder arm pin for the autopilot sheared off. I had to wake Pat and Marshall from well-deserved sleep to fix it while I hand steered. Fortunately, this had happened once before in 2016 and Pat was familiar with the issue. Plus, I had multiple spares of the pin. So, with Marshall’s help, Pat fixed it rather quickly. That was the last time I did anything on my night watch other than listen to the noises of the boat the wind and the sea.
We did a lot of sail changes on the passage. Sometimes we would be on some sort of a reach with a reefed main and jib. Other times we would lower the main and sail downwind on two jibs or even one. A few times we raised the spinnaker for a bit, but often the wind speed and angle weren’t right for the chute. During one of these sail changes, the engine over heated. It turned out that we got a vapor lock after long days of following seas, and the raw-water strainer was empty when the engine was started. That episode required changing the impeller and then flushing the impeller bits out of the hose that leads to the heat exchanger. A fried impeller was not new on Aldabra, so again, Pat and Marshall were able to make the repairs with ease.
We had a lot of prepared meals that had been frozen, so often meal prep was just about heating something up. We were really grateful for that because the big seas made it hard to use the galley. Each of us got thrown around pretty dramatically once or twice. Marshall was the only one who made some meals from scratch, and those were delicious breakfasts.
So, what was it like? One day is kind of like the next. The days go by very fast and the night watches seem long. At first we saw a lot of gray sky and gray ocean swells. We saw very little wildlife, some occasional birds and flying fish. Later we had some blue skies and blue seas when the sun came out. It was a full moon when we left so we didn’t start seeing stars until later. But it was fun to do some identification under Pat’s astronomer coaching.
I had expected that there would be a lot of time to read and study topics such as weather and destinations in the South Pacific. But there was very little down time. We each had two four-hour watches, one during the day and one at night. Then there was time to sleep and eat. I did weather downloads a couple of times a day and did some planning based on that. I also read a couple of Herman Melville books related to French Polynesia. Pat read, studied French and kept a journal. Marshall read, listened to podcasts, kept notes and participated in radio nets on the single-sideband radio. Both of them found things to fix.
We just took one day at a time, and the days got better as the climate got warmer. It was never scary or disagreeable. But as we approached Nuku Hiva, we all talked about how amazed we were that things had gone so well. None of us wanted to mention it earlier, because you never know what can happen, but close to the end of the trip, it felt easier to express relief about all the things that didn’t go wrong.
Our passage was so lucky that we didn’t even have windless days in the ITCZ. Most of the other boats making the passage talked about being becalmed for a few days or facing horrible squalls. We hardly noticed that we’d even been in the ITCZ.
There are so many things you prepare for on a passage like this. Broken boom, broken mast, hole in the hull or some other cause of taking on water, injury, sickness, non-functioning engine or non-functioning watermaker, ripped sails. You dread such things as non-functioning electronics, communications, refrigeration, stove, heads, solar panels. But all that stuff worked for us, and we were simply amazed.
So, what did fail besides the rudder-arm pin and the impeller? Here’s the list:
One of the depth sounders quit working, it may just need to be cleaned.
The spigot that diverts watermaker water from the galley sink (for testing) to the tank got bent pretty badly.
A latch on the Engels portable freezer broke.
The spinnaker pole became detached from the fitting that kept it on its track.
The spinnaker halyard got very chafed while being used to hoist the second jib.
A hinge on one of the toilet seats broke.
The CPT autopilot (backup) doesn’t stay in place for long periods of time so the belt gets loose.
The shower sump got clogged.
The boom preventer broke (as designed) and jumped overboard.
The electrical monitoring system got a bit confused at times.
The wind generator circuit breaker tripped and we didn’t discover it until after we anchored.
The kill solenoid on the engine stopped working, so we have to open up the engine compartment to kill the engine.
The hasp latches used to lock the lazarette broke.
The jib furling line frayed.
The companionway hatch started leaking in rain storms when the boat was heeling.
The steering cable groans.
Nothing major failed, and so many important elements worked consistently. We feel very lucky. Especially now that we are here in Nuku Hiva and three boats have come in with broken booms and one boat is still on the way after being dismasted.
Aldabra left San Diego at 09:30 on Thursday, April 14. Onboard with me were Marshall Peabody and Pat Crosthwaite. We had intended to leave the day before, but the weather wasn’t quite right. And on Thursday we had intended to leave really early, but the night before we discovered a needed repair. So, on Thursday morning, we were at San Diego Marine Exchange when they opened and bought some plumbing parts. Marshall and Pat installed the parts, and we were off.
What mixed feelings of anticipation, freedom, exhilaration and caution. On one hand, everything seemed fine, so I could just absorb each moment and go about the business of sailing and navigation. But on the other hand, I kept wondering what was to go wrong and what we would do about it.
A few thoughts about preparation. The effect on me of the Covid pandemic was that I felt in limbo (like many other people) for a long time, and wasn’t motivated to get a good start on readying the boat, especially if another Covid surge were to dash any hopes of actually taking off. So I never really did a full bow-to-stern inspection, as I should have. For example, both joker valves in the heads should have been replaced. Instead, we had to address one the night before departure and one underway.
Similar story for a lot of other smaller issues on the boat. Fortunately, Marshall arrived more than a week in advance of departure and stayed on the boat. He is very observant and identified all kinds of little issues that he could and did address. There were also things that I had put off until Marshall arrived because I needed a second pair of hands. Marshall also addressed those with ease. He got a new bolt made for the gooseneck, installed an independent hour meter for the engine, changed the fuel filters, installed a portable 12-volt freezer, figured out the reefing system and helped me put fabric guard on the canvas.
I’m not saying I was totally slacking off on preparation. Although It’s hard to prepare for a Pacific crossing by oneself, I worked at it most days after I completed all the paperwork to enter French Polynesia. (After all that effort, I was committed.) I fixed little things, reorganized or purged what was on the boat, added some new things, did an inventory, and cooked (or recruited family members to cook) meals that could be frozen.
In the final couple of days before departure, Marshall and I ran around San Diego getting fuel, final provisions and parts. So it was somewhat of a relief to get underway, putting all those shore-side chores behind us so we could begin a whole new set of chores.
You’ll recall from the early days of this blog that Jim Foley was the person most instrumental in preparing Aldabra and me to go cruising. He coached me on the purchase of the boat, he did most of the work in refitting her, and he taught me how to work on her. He was an invaluable resource. And now I have to say goodbye. Jim died on April 5, 2021 just shy of his 81st birthday, after a stoic battle with cancer. He leaves his wife Linda, four children, many grandchildren, his sister and many nieces and nephews. Jim also leaves a California surfing and sailing community that benefitted so much from his friendship and ingenuity.
You can read others’ insights about how Jim was the Northern California pioneer of surfing’s shortboard, and about the various sailboats that Jim designed and built for racing and then later cruising. He also went through a long phase of passion for windsurfing. There probably wasn’t any aspect of being a waterman that Jim didn’t embody, including swimming, scuba and lifesaving. But design and invention didn’t stop at water-related activities, he also designed and built parts of his homes, refit cars and designed at least one famous logo (O’Neil). But I knew Jim as a long-time friend and mentor.
My story with Jim goes back to my college days in the mid-1970s. I was part of the UC Santa Cruz woman’s sailing team and Jim’s first wife joined us in regattas. The two of them took these young college students under their wing, inviting us to BBQs at their house in Ben Lomond and including us in Santa Cruz Yacht Club events. That was during the time that Jim was racing his iconic Third Reef, and I think we sailed on it. I know we spent the night on it once in Moss Landing after a regatta.
Years later, Jim married my close friend Linda, who was the person who initially brought me onto the university sailing team. Jim and Linda finished building their cruising boat, Dana, and set off around the world for six years. By then, I was pretty immersed in my career in Silicon Valley, spending very little time on the water, but I joined them as crew when I could.
In Tonga, Jim tried to teach me how to do water starts on his windsurfer. I ended up with bloody knees and gave up. I think it was in Tonga that they had me getting up at midnight to go diving for lobster. I was no help. I think I was just befuddled as they darted around to locate and nab their prey. The three of us had a spectacular time sailing throughout all three of Tonga’s island groups. I’m pretty sure those were my first night watches by myself. And that was my first experience with navigation, which was with one of those original brick-size hand-held GPS devices, a paper chart, parallel rulers and a divider. Weather information was by way of an isobar chart received by fax over the ham radio. Communication with fellow cruisers was with VHF and communication with people in the U.S. was by way of ham radio, letters sent using snailmail or by going to an island-based telephone center to make a long-distance call or send a fax. They had made friends with several other cruisers and that was my introduction to the supportive, congenial bonds that cruisers develop.
My next visit was a magical trip from Vanuatu to the Solomon Islands. I arrived with two large duffels full of parts and goodies that they had requested via fax. Jim commandeered a pickup truck to get the goods from the airport to the dinghy, which almost sank under the load. That trip started out with some urgency as we tried (successfully) to outsail a cyclone. Once we were outside the reach of the storm, we found ourselves ghosting by an active volcano in flat, glassy water that seemed to extend forever. I got spoiled sailing on Dana, because the boat moved in in just a whisper of wind. Built using a Santa Cruz 40 mold, she was light and designed to go fast.
We stopped at a few islands in Vanuatu and the Solomons before arriving at Guadalcanal, which would be my departure point. I think Jim and Linda had decided it was easier to trade for lobster, so they were no longer hunting for that crustacean. But they had become experts at catching and cooking coconut crabs, which we did on one remote island. (These crabs with their pinchers can get pretty scary when they get loose on the boat.) We also hiked into the heart of one of the islands to a native village that seemed untouched by the outside world. On the way back, we rode air-filled floats down the streams that flowed back to the ocean. It was an example of how Jim always looked for a way to turn any occasion into frolicking fun.
The next time I was to meet up with Jim and Linda was in Seychelles. We had been in communication by fax and had a rough plan to meet up around May of whatever year that was. (I don’t have my journals with me.) But weeks went by without any word from them. Not really understanding what their circumstances were (like being in the remote Chagos during a year when ham radio propagation was poor and they had no other means of communication), I just decided to fly to Seychelles and see what would happen. I had taken the time off of work and didn’t want to squander it. After arriving on Mahe and checking into a small inn, I took a bus to the harbor to ask around. As I was standing there, a boat that looked very much like Danaarrived in the harbor. Like a thoughtless landlubber, I asked someone in a skiff to take me out to where Dana was anchoring.
So imagine it from their perspective. They are sleep deprived and not feeling all that well after a two-week passage. They are in the middle of anchoring, the most stressful interaction that any cruising couple goes through. And on their passage, they had completed, with great thought, the list they expected to fax to me of all the things they wanted me to bring. On the passage they had been dreaming about those things. And here I am before them, which means a)I will not be bringing anything on their list and b)they are way too tired to interact. I have never seen a more disappointed look on Jim’s face.
Jim and Linda generously forgave me and I moved onto the boat the next day. We took some time to tour around Mahe, visiting local artists. We attended a big independence celebration. And we reprovisioned the boat. After spending some time on other islands in the group, Praslin and La Digue, I think, we headed west, buddy boating with two or three other boats.
The passage was rough at first. Seas were coming from two different directions. And the winds were intense, probably blowing 30-40 knots over two or three days. Waves were crashing into the cockpit from above and filling it with water, or broadsiding the boat. We were tossed around so much that we gave up on regular watches and pinned ourselves into our berths down below to avoid being thrown all over or hit with projectiles. At one point a wave blew the main into tatters and we had to abandon our nests to change it out. For a respite, we took refuge at a small atoll. We didn’t have permission to land, but all the boats anchored for a spell to fix damage and rest from the wind and seas. From there we sailed to Aldabra, to visit the giant tortoises and to dive in the lagoon, which is the largest of any coral atoll in the world.
At that time, in the mid-1990s, Aldabra was inhabited by a small staff of people at a research station. We arranged with them to take us all in a couple of skiffs to the mouth of the lagoon. We were dropped off just as the water was gushing into the lagoon. Through a series of mishaps, we were mostly separated from one another, but we all held onto our masks and road the current into the center of the lagoon along with all kinds of sea creatures. Each of us surfaced when we ran out of air and the boats found and retrieved us. One guy was lost for a couple of hours but we eventually found him alive. We spent those two hours wondering what we would do in the worst-case scenario. Fortunately, it didn’t come to that.
From Aldabra, we set off west again, not knowing exactly where the winds and seas would take us. But we ended up at the island of Mayotte, off the east coast of Africa. I flew from there back to Seychelles and onto France, before flying back to the U.S.
Jim and Linda continued around the southern tip of Africa after they explored the continent by land. They then crossed the Atlantic and explored the Caribbean and eastern side of Central America and the Gulf of Mexico before trucking Dana overland to Oakland. The next time I met up with them on the boat, I took a ferry from Tiberon and spend a couple days with them on Angel Island before they sailed Dana back to their home port of Santa Cruz.
That began their next adventure. They brought twins Trevor and Dana into the world and had a lot of fun raising them. I was with them on a boating trip in British Columbia when the twins were about eighteen months old. We had five adults to keep an eye on two toddlers, which is what it takes when you’re walking along docks. On their boat, which was a MacGregor 26, Jim had installed car seats to keep them safe in the cockpit. When they weren’t trucking the MacGregor around the country or to Mexico, they might be paddling or sailing the canoe that Jim built, or helping coach the kids’ sailing classes or exposing them to some other water or sports activity. Jim took delight in any of the twins’ science or art projects, and Linda was a wellspring of interesting educational or creative projects or outings. They were both fulltime, hands-on parents that passed on their curiosity and boundless energy to their children.
I had always planned to buy a cruising boat when I retired and in 2008 Jim had a slip in the Santa Cruz harbor if I could put a boat in it. So he helped me buy and fix up Aldabra. We were partners in the boat until I took off down the coast to Mexico to begin my cruising adventure. Those roughly eight years of working with Jim on the boat were just plain fun, and I learned a lot. He did projects on the boat during the week while I was working. And I would join in during the weekends when I wasn’t traveling. He did several projects without me (replacing the entire fresh water system, replacing the engine), but would save parts of each project so I could learn. He guided me on what tools I needed, how to maintain each system on the boat, and how to prepare for long passages to remote places.
Jim was always anticipating what could go wrong and helping me prepare for each catastrophe. He would say, “It’s not if things go wrong, it’s about what you do when they go wrong.” Jim was a master at both anticipation and inventing a fix for anything that broke. That was a mindset that I had to learn. I just wanted to put all new parts on the boat and expect that everything would survive, but of course that wasn’t going to be the case. As Jim had explained multiple times, and I of course discovered first hand, owning and journeying on a boat is an endless process of maintenance, repairs and improvements. But the joy you get from making new friends, sharing with old friends, traveling to remote countries and sailing along in a good breeze with the engine off makes it all worthwhile.
I had always hoped that Jim and Linda and the kids would join me at points during my cruising adventure. Jim was aboard when we set off from Santa Cruz to Southern California. And Dana was part of the crew that sailed from Puerto Vallarta to San Diego on a trip that was supposed to be to the Marquesas. And I hold out hope that Linda, Trevor and Dana will still be joining me once the COVID restrictions are lifted. But Jim’s last time on the boat was several weeks ago when he and Linda visited in San Diego and I showed him the modifications I had done in Mexico and San Diego.
He was his usual enthusiastic, supportive self. In all the years I’ve known Jim, he was always supportive. I’m sure he worried about all the things I didn’t know and all the challenges I was likely to encounter. He probably worried about his daughter sailing to the South Pacific with me. But He never voiced any doubts. He just made lists of everything he could impart. I’m so grateful to have had such a friend. I miss him and it pains me that his family has lost him.
If you’ve followed Aldabra’s journey through this blog, you’ll have read about Dr. David Rose. He and his wife Susan crewed on Aldabra for the Baja Ha Ha in 2016. They also visited while I was in the Sea of Cortez. And David was headed to French Polynesia with us when we had to detour to San Diego. Susan was going to meet us in the Marquesas.
Because of the quarantine, I hadn’t seen David since we arrived in San Diego in April. We spoke on the phone in July and closed the conversation with an expectation that he would come down to the boat at some point in the near future.
But that wasn’t to be. David passed away unexpectedly in early August. David was a very close friend and has been my sailing partner for years. Every time I make certain improvements to the boat, I think about whether David would approve, even now.
Having David on the boat was alway reassuring to me. We had very complementary styles, underscored by trust and mutual respect. We developed strategies collaboratively and never argued. He loved to sail and he loved to tinker, with electronics and with anything he noticed that could be improved. David was very smart and very thoughtful. I always paid attention when he challenged my approach to something. And he was always a great partner when it came time for a repair. He was also great company for everyone on board, with his quiet humor and easy-going nature.
David’s and my sailing partnership began in 1997. He had a small day sailor in the Santa Cruz harbor and he furthered his interest in sailing with an ASA course that prepared him to charter bigger boats. Shortly after he completed his course, he proposed that I join his family on a charter to the BVIs, and invited one of my nieces (Halley) along. She was between his two oldest kids in age.
We chartered a monohull and had a wonderful time. I think Halley was only about eleven years old at the time, and it was hard for her to be away from home. But Susan took Halley under her wing while David and I were probably quite occupied with the business of sailing the boat.
That began a tradition of chartering a sailboat in some part of the world every other year. There were a couple of times when I wasn’t able to participate, but David and Susan and their kids (Jessica, Ben and Samantha) always got their charter trip in. I loved the preparatory meetings for the trips, the trips themselves, and the post-trip recap gatherings. And through those experiences, I grew close to the Rose family and was honored to participate in many of their family celebrations.
For the trip after the BVIs, David wanted to charter a catamaran. Neither of us had any experience with one, so we signed up for a two-day class at Club Nautique in Alameda. We would be learning on a PDQ, which was identical to a boat we planned to charter in the Bahamas.
We did learn about the differences between a monohull and a catamaran, so the class prepared us well for the charter. But the class also bonded us in a life-and-death experience. Due to a freak accident, our instructor was strangled by a jib sheet and lost consciousness. He wasn’t breathing, and it was up to David to bring him back to life. As a surgeon, he certainly knew how to perform CPR in theory, but he didn’t have any experience in a setting outside the OR and without competent staff to assist. But he did save the instructor’s life. The whole emergency of keeping the guy alive, making our way back to the dock and working with the Coast Guard was a bit traumatic and very memorable. But it was not the last of Dr. Rose providing emergency medical assistance during a sailing trip.
Our uneventful catamaran charter in the Bahamas was followed four years later by a trip to Tonga. (The Rose family had chartered in Greece in the interim, but I had not been able to go.) In Tonga, we chartered two boats so we could include more of our friends. I brought my niece, Lizzie, along with two other families. There was also a third boat with our friend Pete and his family. It was strange not being on the same boat as the Rose family. But every day, David, Pete and I had skippers’ meetings to plan our navigation for that day. And in the evenings the crews of all three boats gathered on one of the boats to party after dinner. Playing the card game Hearts figured prominently in the evenings’ activities. And true to form, David responded when a local citizen put out a call on the radio for medical assistance. David met with him and provided consultation.
Two years later, we chartered in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, again on two separate boats. We had some of the same friends, and this time I brought my sister Ann and her daughters, Emily and Hannah. Our friends Vicki and Bruce and their son Griffin were now experienced crew, having been on the Tonga trip. And our friend Mark was also a repeat participant. The trip had lots of drama, including the effects of an approaching hurricane (that never really messed with us very much). And once again, there were medical emergencies that David needed to address. Beyond that, however, he became a casualty himself, with a couple of broken ribs. Fortunately, his daughter Jessica, who went on to become a doctor, was able to help David out.
The next trip was to Croatia. This time we chartered one boat, a 50-ft monohull. The trip included the Rose family, their good friend Karen and my nieces Rachel and Julia. It was fun to have everyone together on the same boat, but it was a very different kind of trip. Rather than sailing among remote tropical islands, we were in civilization. It involved dressing up to go to restaurants and even a visit to an exclusive night club. Uncharacteristically, we had no medical emergencies that I can recall.
Next, we chartered in Belize. This time David and I each captained a catamaran and out friend Mark captained a monohull. My boat included Vicki and Bruce and Griffin along with Marty and Katie and Gabe, who had been on the Tonga trip.
Two years later, the Roses chartered in New Zealand and I was not able to go. So our next trip together was a return to the BVIs. We had three boats. The Rose party was on one boat. My boat included my mother, my friends Pete and Cookie and my friends Jim and Linda and their twins, Dana and Trevor. The third boat included Mark’s brother and family and mother. We all joined together for a Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant on shore. The only medical emergency I remember from that trip was Pete’s excruciatingly painful toothache, which David successfully treated with antibiotics.
Our final charter trip together was in 2015 out of Raiatea in the Society Islands. We were on one catamaran together, with my sister Wendy and her husband Pat, David and Susan, Karen and Jessica. We sailed around Raiatea, Huahine, Taha’a and Bora Bora. We bought pearls at a pearl farm and had a great time snorkeling, especially through one pass between two islands that swept us rapidly through narrow channels with coral heads everywhere. After we dropped off the boat, we stayed a few days in Tahiti, visiting the market in Papeete and touring the island in a rental car.
I found out a bit after we returned that David had contracted Dengue fever while we were there and suffered multiple complications from it. It was very much on our minds as we planned the trip to the Marquesas, because it was imperative for him to avoid getting it again.
David, Susan, Wendy and Pat were all on the Baja Ha Ha trip the next year, on Aldabra, where David once again came to the rescue, this time for a sailor who had dislocated his shoulder.
As I anticipate the possibility that Aldabra may get to leave for French Polynesia in 2021, it’s hard to imagine the voyage without David. I hope Susan will still want to join us in the Marquesas. And I hope that sometime in the not-too-distant future, we’ll get the chartering gang back for another catamaran trip in David’s honor.
Aldabra has not left her slip since we arrived in April. For the first several weeks after we arrived, Dana and I stayed on the boat and worked on projects. Pat would join us on some weekends because working on the boat was a good break from his real job.
We put in a new macerator pump for the forward holding tank and reattached the hoses. (My first unsupervised electrical project.) We removed the forward water tank and checked for leaks. Finding none, we put it back in. We also replaced the fill line for the forward water tank. The original hose was the kind that was reinforced with metal wire and it had rusted, so particles of rust were getting into the tank. It was really hard to get the old hose out but we felt a huge sense of accomplishment to have a new, clean one in place. And of course, we changed the engine oil and oil filter. We also did regular cleaning and maintenance on both Aldabra and the dinghy.
During those first few weeks, San Diego was a ghost town. We could go to a few stores for supplies. We could walk the path along Harbor Island and eventually walk along the beach. But most places that I wanted to show Dana were closed. Balboa Park, Presidio Park, Cowles Mountain.
Toward the end of May, Dana moved back up to Santa Cruz, and I headed back to Mexico by plane with my friends Tom Wurfl and Mark Coleman. We delivered Wind Rose, owned by our friend Steve Roberts, from Puerto Vallarta to Ventura. Based on what I wrote about the bash on Aldabra in March/April, it would seem as though another bash would be crazy. But the second one was quite pleasant. It helped that I was better equipped with warm clothes and that the weather was warmer. It also helped that we didn’t have the drama of uncertainties that we had in March.
The trip was quite straightforward, taking under two weeks. We picked our weather windows and kept moving, stopping briefly in Mazatlan for (I think) one night and in San Jose del Cabo for 30 minutes for fuel. We then stopped in Bahia Asuncion for fuel and to wait out some stronger wind before going to Ensenada. We arrived in Ensenada in the early morning and were checked out and underway again by early afternoon. (Rather than waiting for the exit papers, we asked the marina guy to email them to us once he got them. If we had been stopped by the Mexican Navy, they would have turned us back to the marina, but fortunately we were never stopped and we did get the emailed papers in short order.)
We had a couple of things break on the northbound trip. Tom and Mark did temporary fixes and when we got to San Diego, the parts were waiting and they executed the repairs in less than 45 minutes, repairs that would have taken me all day. (Replacing the fresh water pump and a fitting for the dripless shaft seal.)
After spending the night in San Diego at Tom and Helen’s house (a nice meal, a shower and a full night’s sleep), we headed up to Ventura and were met by Steve the next morning in his marina. My first professional boat delivery. I hope there will be more.
Once I returned to San Diego, I moved off the boat and into my mother’s house. My very generous brother-in-law has loaned me his car so I can return to the boat several days a week to continue with projects. Pat helped me reinstall a sensor for the forward water tank and wire in a new red and green bow light for night navigation. He also helped me remove the two bow rollers and rebed them. Aldabra had taken some water in at the bow, and I’m hoping we have corrected the problem. I still need to test it with large volumes of water.
The current project is a big one. Tom removed the counter tops in the galley, which was not an easy job. I then used his oscillating multi-tool with a scraper blade to remove the silicone. One the surfaces were cleaned up, I painted the wall behind the galley. Next, Tom drilled holes in the surface and we began pouring foam insulation into the space between the boat hull and the refrigerator, stove and freezer. I’m hoping the insulation will help the refrigerator maintain its temperature better in warmer climates. We’re not done yet, but the results have been encouraging. The only “oops” was when the foam found its way unexpectedly into a couple of compartments that didn’t need any foam. I had to cut those foam surprises out. (From the time you combine both Part A and Part B into a bucket, you have 30 seconds to stir them up and another 30 seconds to a minute to get the foam poured into the hole before it starts expanded. The temperature needs to be 74 degrees and low humidity. We’ve been able to achieve the right temperature in the early morning but it hasn’t been possible to have a low humidity day recently.)
Today, the counter top guys came to make a template. The next step is for them to manufacture the new counters, with a big, single sink. I can’t wait.
I’m also waiting for all the salon cushions to be reupholstered. I’m actually glad that they’re off the boat while the galley project is underway, but I do have to pester the guy doing these.
It’s Friday, April 3rd, 2020. I’m sitting inside the salon of Aldabra while a chilling wind is howling outside. It’s midday and we’re anchored in Bahia Asuncion, halfway up the Pacific side of the Baja Peninsula.
All four of us (David, Pat, Dana and I), just treated ourselves to indoor showers, our first since Sunday night and our last until we arrive in San Diego, possibly on Thursday of next week.
We’re in this bay waiting out a weather system, which should last through Saturday. After that, we’ll probably need a day for the seas to settle a bit before proceeding north. But the weather forecast keeps changing, so we’ll see how it goes.
We’re hunkered down in this bay with Jane and Jerry on Shamaal and Rich and Sharon on Bumblebee. Fortunately the water is pretty flat in the bay so we’re comfortable in spite of the cold wind. We’ve all filled up our fuel tanks, thanks to the help from locals, so we’re ready to go when the time is right.
I’m sure you’re wondering why a boat headed for the South Pacific ended up here. But maybe that’s obvious. Everything has changed for people all over the world with the threat of the Coronavirus. In our case, an hour before casting off our dock lines to leave Nuevo Vallarta in Banderas Bay Mexico, the port captain notified us that we were no longer cleared to leave Mexico for French Polynesia. In fact, we learned shortly afterward that we couldn’t even be cleared to leave Mexico for Hawaii. Our options at the time were to stay put, sail around in Mexican waters or clear out of the country in Ensenada.
After all the preparation to sail to the South Pacific, and the anticipation, this was a huge shock. It was hard to react rationally. Plus, information was changing faster than we could process it. I don’t know how severe the global crisis brought on by the Coronavirus will be when I finally have enough Internet access to post this blog entry, but I’m sure millions of people are suffering more than we are. So this story may sound like the sniveling and whining of four people whose plans had to change. After all, we’re not suffering financially the way many people in Mexico and all over the world are suffering because their livelihoods have disappeared. And we’re not cooped up in self-isolation in an apartment somewhere. We’re healthy, out on the water, and pretty far away from exposure to the virus, at least for now.
It’s easy to look at our situation now and feel grateful. But I’m going to tell you our story because this blog is about sailing on Aldabra. As readers of this blog know, the story for the last several months has been about getting the boat ready and getting the crew and myself prepared. I thought everything was going pretty well. In fact, up until the moment we were denied departure, I was amazingly calm and unstressed. But that hadn’t always been the case in the last couple of months leading up to untying the dock lines.
The stress started when I applied for a long-stay visa for French Polynesia. I left Mexico by car and drove north to San Francisco, handing my passport and a stack of paperwork over to the agency that processes visas for France. It was December 23rd. I then drove back south to San Diego to enjoy the holidays with my family, which I very happily did.
In late January it was time to fly back to Mexico to continue preparing for the South Pacific voyage. But the French Consulate in Washington D.C. remained in possession of my passport. And the representing agency could not provide me with any information about when I would receive it. It had been five weeks. With a few days remaining before my flight to Mexico, I needed to sell my car and get a new passport. While selling the car first appeared to be a challenge, I figured that out and sold it in one morning. Then I turned my attention to online resources for getting a second passport in 24 hours.
After paying an online service, I discovered that I could not get a second passport without either having the first one in hand or declaring it lost or stolen. I didn’t want the original to be invalidated because if I ever did get it back from the French, it would have my long-stay visa in it. (The long-stay visa allows one to stay in French Polynesia for a year or more, as opposed to 90 days, which would require one to rush through the island groups.)
The online agency advised me to contact the U.S. State Department. Miraculously, that agency was able to get me an early morning appointment the next day at the passport office in San Diego (I hadn’t realized that one existed) to receive a second passport by the end of the day. (This was Friday morning and my flight was scheduled for Monday.)
Granting a second passport is not something our government does without consideration. At the office, I had to answer a lot of questions in writing. Why couldn’t I just stay in San Diego until I received my passport back? Why did I need to go to Mexico? Why did the French have my passport in the first place? How was I going to get the passport if I went in Mexico? I also had to run down the street to have new passport photos taken because the photo on the new passport could not match the photo on the original passport. By the end of the day, however, I had a second passport in hand, good only for four years instead of the usual ten years. I could use either passport for international travel as long as I didn’t present both at the same time.
That solved, I caught my flight back to Puerto Vallarta. But the passport was still a constant concern. I waited six more weeks and still no word on the status of the passport and visa. I contacted the agency for the visas and received conflicting answers about whether the passport could be tracked. I contacted the French Consulate and received a vague response. I even enlisted my congressman’s office to help me.
As my departure date approached, I began re-planning my voyage with the new assumption that I could be in French Polynesia for only 90 days. If I arrived in French Polynesia in mid-April, I would need to leave the country by mid-July. I needed to figure out where to go and to line up crew for that because the crew that planned to be with me would be remaining in French Polynesia.
After spending a full day on that exercise, I got a notification that my passport and visa were on the way to my mom’s house in San Diego. My brother-in-law Pat could bring it with him when he arrived in March. I was relieved and a bit elated.
Another bureaucratic wrinkle surfaced about the same time. My insurance agent, who had assured me that I would be covered in the South Pacific, notified me that his company would not be insuring me. He gave me the name of another company and I proceeded to work with that one. But time was running out and that new company was swamped with applicants because cancellations for vessels have become rampant since the hurricane disasters of recent years.
When the new insurance agent finally came back with a quote, the proviso was that I needed an out-of-water survey, a rigging inspection and a storm plan. At first, with the haul-out survey out of the question, I resolved to forego insurance. But after thinking about it overnight, I called back with a proposal. What if I had a very thorough in-water survey with proof of what was done during my last haul-out in the spring? That was potentially acceptable to the company, so I contacted a surveyor who could work with me right away.
We spent half a day going over the boat and I provided him with a document that listed every modification I had made to the boat. He did the survey quickly and I sent it to the insurance company. They accepted it so I just needed to pay them. (That was a day before departure. Instead of paying them the next day, I called to let them know that I wouldn’t need the coverage after all.) So the survey fire drill was not really needed, although it might be useful down the line.
In the last couple of weeks before departure I also made other “perishable” investments in time and money. I made one-year commitments to subscriptions such as backup South Pacific charts from Navionics for my iPad and Predictwind Offshore Professional. I paid the agents in Tahiti for assistance with clearing into the country and paid the Nuevo Vallarta port captain for clearing out of the country. I paid an agent to ship CO2 cartridges overland to Mexico because they couldn’t be brought in by air. I purchased an extensive supply of medications for the journey, all with expiration dates of one year or less. I also bought a huge supply of food provisions. I purchased airline tickets for one of my crew members to fly back to the U.S. in June. And I worked with other boats to plan processes for communicating while we were underway.
Another extensive time investment, which I would not consider to be perishable or a waste of time, was attending perhaps three dozen seminars on all kinds of topics related to the journey. Many experts generously gave their time to educate the South Pacific-bound fleet on medical and dental emergencies, weather, route strategies, storm and emergency tactics, safety, provisioning and other helpful tips.
The flurry of activity intensified my anticipation, my confidence in my preparation and my certainty that this trip was imminent. The progress of the Coronavirus was in the news, but my crew and I just thought we could get out on the water and escape. David arrived in Puerto Vallarta on March 12th. Dana arrived on March 14th. We were worried that Pat would be prevented from joining us, but he arrived without incident on a nearly empty flight on March 18th. We went to the store for final provisioning of fruits and vegetables and then joined some cruiser friends that evening for a very sweet farewell gathering. All we needed to do was get up in the morning and take off as soon as the port captain and the customs and immigration officials met us at the boat at 11:00.
In our first stage of grief after we found out that French Polynesia was closed to us, we resolved to go to Hawaii. After a couple of hours of planning and communicating with our families, I went to see about being cleared out of the country only to find out, of course, that it would not be possible.
Around the same time, we started hearing that the U.S. border might close. Pat grew concerned because he eventually needed to get back to work. He couldn’t stay in Mexico indefinitely. And David didn’t want to abandon his wife indefinitely. I didn’t want to stay in the marina any longer. I had been there only to prepare for the journey and I wasn’t emotionally prepared to sit on the boat indefinitely. I had a crew ready and willing to sail, just so long as they weren’t prevented from repatriating to the U.S. So why not sail north to San Diego? None of us had ever done the notorious Baja Bash. I had never wanted or planned to do it. But now it seemed like a good idea. We would be out on the water and we could deliver Pat and David back to the U.S. They weren’t ready to give up on a sailing trip.
We didn’t really think about the fact that I had taken all my Baja navigation information back to California, or that it would get colder as we went north, and we didn’t have warm clothes and sleeping bags. We just decided to go. And coincidently my friends on Shamaal were on their way north and invited us to join them.
So on Friday, March 20th, we cleared out of the port of Nuevo Vallarta and headed for Punta de Mita to wait for favorable weather to cross over to the lower tip of Baja. We stayed at anchor for a couple of days and set sail on Sunday morning. We sailed the first day under pretty decent conditions and then motor sailed for two more days under slightly more uncomfortable conditions in the form of big swells.
At one point we had a bit of drama. I wanted to slow the boat down and turn into the wind to change the location of the jib cars. The jib sheets were causing a strain on a couple of stanchions. But I forgot that we had fishing lines in the water, Slowing the boat down allowed them to get caught around the prop, which had been turning while we were sailing. Weirdly enough, as the prop twisted the fishing lines, they started twisting my pant leg. The strain was so great that I had to take my pants off to get myself free. I then dove into the water to cut the fishing lines free and we were soon back underway.
I’m embarrassed to say that the sail over demonstrated that Aldabra was not quite ready for the passage to French Polynesia. I had not put the boat through enough pre-passage testing. Right away I discovered that the screws inside the macerator pump for the forward head had corroded and the pump was leaking. Pat and I took the pump out and plugged the hoses and we just didn’t use that head.
The boom topping lift shackle had not been moused and the topping lift came off the boom. The transmission would not go into neutral after we put it into reverse while sailing. The shifter cable was being impeded by the wire for the compass light. We had to take the compass off to free the wire. One of the port shrouds was too loose and possibly the backstay was too loose.
We arrived in San Jose del Cabo at night on Tuesday, March 24th. Finding the marina entrance at night was a bit unnerving but once inside we glided into the slip.
San Jose del Cabo is a small, friendly marina. The area was very quiet but there were a couple of restaurants and a laundry. We met some nice cruisers and enjoyed our brief stay. We mostly worked on boat projects and refueled. Plus we emailed several documents to an agent in Cabo who could clear us out of the country from there.
On Friday, vessels Shamaal and Bumblebee arrived from the Sea of Cortez. We all went through a bit of drama because rumors were coming from several sources saying that the port of Cabo San Lucas was closed and that the port of San Jose del Cabo was about to be closed. We didn’t want to be stuck in a port, so we were a bit concerned.
As it turned out, the port of San Jose del Cabo wasn’t closed. But even if it had been, we had inadvertantly failed to check in with the port captain so we didn’t need to check out. On the morning of Saturday, March 28th, we just left without a word.
When we arrived in Cabo, all three boats went to the fuel dock and got a bit of fuel. The agent met us there to provide our exit papers and take our immigration cards. And the security guard at the dock helped us get slips in the marina.
We stayed in Cabo for two nights, nervous again because they had officially closed the port. More rumors were flying online that all ports were closed in Mexico and cruising boats would have to stay wherever they were located. We had no intention of staying, so we planned to leave before daylight on Monday morning, before the port captain noticed us.
Anyone who has visited Cabo knows the marina is usually wild with hustle and bustle. But because of the Coronavirus, it was a ghost town. We went to the beach and walked around the marina area and town. We found a mini supermarket with some decent vegetables. And we ate dinner in restaurants that were on the verge of closing. We felt for all the people who made their living from tourism and now had no income.
More than once we talked to marina guards and supervisors about whether we would be stopped from leaving on Monday. We thought about making our exit on Sunday night. In the end we correctly surmised that the port closure had to do with commercial boat traffic. As cruisers on private vessels, we would be allowed to leave as long as we already had our papers and as long as we were headed to Ensenada or San Diego. We could not go to any other port in Mexico.
Because uncertainty prevailed everywhere, including with the port captains and marina employees, we made our exit on Monday morning at four o’clock. The trip around the point was manageable. We motor sailed upwind for two days in O.K. conditions.
The third day started getting pretty gnarly with winds consistently in the upper teens and waves bigger, steeper and closer apart. And it was cold! As the wind was starting to intensify, Dana caught a fish that was big enough to keep and clean. She had caught three fish the day before but had release them. (These were the first fish she had ever caught.) Following instructions in a book, she cleaned and filleted the fish and then cleaned her utensils and the bloodied boat.
By early evening we still had some 65 miles to go to Turtle Bay. To get some relief, all three boats turned into Bahia Asuncion, which was only 18 miles away. I texted friends to make sure we would have wind protection there and they highly recommended the stop. They were right. We arrived at the anchorage at 7:30, just after sundown, and the waters were flat.
We were so relieved to cook dinner in calm, flat water. It was still cold and windy but we didn’t have to stand night watch in a cold, windy cockpit. What a contrast the day had been with our vision of sailing to the South Pacific. This was certainly not what my crew had signed up for.
Early the next morning the three boats had a radio meeting about weather, and then I called Shari Bondy, who runs a hotel and campground in the town. She sent Larry, the nephew of a local restaurant owner out to the boat. We handed over our fuel cans to him and Dana hopped in his boat to head to town. They refilled the fuel containers and went to a small tienda so Dana could get a bit of produce. When they got back, Larry also took our trash to shore.
It would have been so nice to explore the town of Asuncion and meet our hosts. But the quarantine was in effect and we were discouraged from going ashore.
Meanwhile, Pat and David and I did a bit of cleanup inside the boat. During this first leg of the Baja bash, everything had moved about the cabin and was in total disarray. I also made some phone calls in preparation for arrival in San Diego and did some weather and route planning for the leg that would take us to San Diego.
We also pondered the mystery of the water tank, another problem that would have been a challenge during the passage to the South Pacific. No matter how long we ran the watermaker, the tank would only fill halfway. We suspected that the tank had a crack in it and the water was leaking into the bilge. But there wasn’t really much we could do about it until we reached San Diego. It’s just one of many little annoyances that needs to be fixed. (Another one is that our red and green lights on the bow went out.)
The morning at the anchorage was warm and calm but the winds picked up and grew cold in the afternoon. Dana baked cookies while David and Pat read. We grilled chicken and the fish for dinner, which included mashed potatoes. Still in flat water, we enjoyed a comfortable evening.
Earlier this morning the crews from Shamaal and Bumblebee came over for a visit, which was very nice. Since taking our showers, we’ve wiled away the afternoon, reading and writing. One of our crew members is suffering pain associated with passing a kidney stone while the wind continues to announce itself.
Sunday, April 5th, 10:30 a.m.
We’re headed north to Turtle Bay for one overnight before making a bigger push north. We aimed to leave Bahia Asuncion at 4:00 a.m. but our engine wouldn’t start. Jerry on Shamaal suggested we jiggle the starter wires. We did that and it worked. We were off after a delay of about 45 minutes.
The other two boats are motor sailing and going faster. We’re just motoring. The winds are light and the angle to the wind is small so we lose a bit of an assist from the main but we don’t have to bear off to keep if full.
Yesterday was a pretty boring day in the anchorage. The wind was brisk and cold. The other two crews came over for a visit and a weather meeting. We played a couple of rounds of Hearts. And we read and puttered and checked the weather. At least today we’re knocking eight hours off our northbound journey.
Monday, April 6th, 5:00 a.m.
We pulled up anchor, raised our mainsail and left Turtle Bay along with Shamaal and Bumblebee. We motor sailed north in decent winds and biggish swells. The wind speeds and directions varied. It kept getting colder. And eventually we got rained on as we approached our destination. But the last leg of the bash was unremarkable.
After dinner on the last two nights it was so cold that we all wanted to be down below and out of the wind. So we played a couple of rounds of Hearts before night watches started. Between hands, while the dealer was shuffling the cards, I’d run out to check on the other boats and adjust the sails. For night watches, Dana took 10 o’clock to midnight. David took midnight to 2 a.m. Pat had 2 to 4. And I went from 4 to 6.
As the day started on Wednesday, April 8th, we were just south of San Diego. Light rains would visit us briefly but the day was beautiful. I got a text from friends in Nuevo Vallarta because they had heard that the port of San Diego was now closed. I called the vessel arrival authorities and was told to call them when we arrived at the police dock on Shelter Island. The agent I spoke with was annoyed that I was so ignorant of entry procedures but did not suggest that we would be denied entry.
We arrived at the police dock on Shelter Island at around 9:30. There was some confusion about how to clear in. I didn’t have the ROAM app and had not used it to register to enter the country. I finally started using the app to register but hadn’t completed the process before some Customs and Border Patrol guys showed up to clear us in. Once they were there, all three boats were cleared in in about 15 minutes.
Shamaal and Bumblebee stayed at the police dock to prepare for continued northbound travel. But Aldabra left the dock and headed over to our new slip at Sunroad Resort Marina on Harbor Island.
We spent a couple of hours sorting out things on the boat and my friend Tom from Catatude brought us face masks. We then gathered up our trash and dirty laundry and headed for the parking lot. David’s wife Susan picked him up and my sister Wendy arrived to take Dana and Pat and I up to their house in Escondido. We did laundry and took showers, had dinner and slept very well.
Friday, April 10th
Dana and I spent yesterday cautiously doing some errands. We went to Target where Dana got some warmer clothes and I bought a couple of sleeping bags. We then went to visit my mother, where we picked up some groceries that my sister had bought us and I got some warm clothes. After dropping off the groceries at the boat, we went back to Escondido for the night. We’re waiting for the rain to stop a bit before Dana and I move back onto the boat to shelter in place while working on boat projects.