We backed out of our slip at the Dana Point Marina at about 10:00 AM on Tuesday morning (11/16). Docking and undocking are always the most stressful parts of any journey for us so I'm happy to report that this one was totally anticlimactic, just the way we like 'em. Motored over to the fuel dock where we topped off the tank, filled two jerry jugs, filled the outboard gas can and one of the generator gas cans.
Pulled away from the fuel dock at 11:00 AM and headed out into calm seas and a nice sunny sky. Since we had no intention of stopping in San Diego, I plotted our course to take us well away from its entrance so we'd avoid the traffic and the possibility of running into warships playing games. The course took us on the outside of Las Islas Coronados off the far north coast of Baja. Going outside the islands added 6 nautical miles to our trip but the peace of mind was well worth it.
I know that I said that we intended to sail as much of this leg as possible, and damn the consequences. Well, I wimped out. We had almost NO wind and what little we had was always within 5 degrees one side or the other of our bow. We might have been able to sail a little but, the light winds combined with their direction would have added days to our trip. Maybe next time.
We raised the main about noon to steady the boat and maybe provide a little bit of lift. The seas were almost dead flat. There was a very slight swell, maybe a foot or so, spaced very widely. The sky was completely clear and sunny. There was a little haze around the horizon but that was about it. The air temperature was 65 degrees.
By 1:30, the air temperature was up to 67. It was still mostly clear but I could see we were approaching a large cloud bank. But for now, the sun felt really good beating down on my neck while I read Moby Dick and Lulu napped. Other than the sound of the engine, which I don't begrudge at all, it was an almost perfect day for cruising along the coast in a boat. I was loving life.
By 2:00, the sky had gotten mostly cloudy and the temp was back down to 65. Still no wind to speak of. However by 3:00 we were completely clouded over and the temp was down to 64. And now we had a slight breeze although it was hitting us from dead ahead. The trip continued pretty much along these lines. No great stories but that just means we had it easy.
Sidebar: We both decided to use Bonine (meclizine) to guard against mal de mer this trip. Lulu, because it worked for her previously and me because I didn't want to waste an expensive scopolamine patch (good for 3 days) on an overnight trip. It worked great but does cause a little drowsiness at first.
By 6:00 it was completely dark and the sky was completely clouded over. Air temp was down to 63 and I was chilly enough to put on long johns and my foul weather jacket. At one point I was sitting on a couple of cushions on the bridge deck with my feet inside the cabin resting on the companionway ladder. I had the sliding hatch pulled so that it was like a table in front of me to rest my book on. Thus sheltered from the apparent wind by the dodger, I could read by headlamp and still look up occasionally to check that everything was OK. As I sat there reading, listening to the drone of the engine, I confess that I occasionally nodded off for a few minutes at a time. One time, when I woke up I looked forward and something didn't look right. There were lights across the southern horizon that really shouldn't have been there. I glanced at the GPS and saw immediately what the problem was. The GPS was OFF! And the autopilot was in STANDBY. That means that one or the other of us must have turned a light on that caused the 12 volt system to shut down (remember that gremlin?). It must have been off only instantaneously because neither one of us noticed any blackouts. But it was off long enough to shut off the GPS and reboot the autopilot. The GPS wouldn't really matter since all it's doing is providing us with information. But the autopilot no longer had a course to steer and just went to STANDBY mode with the tiller locked in whatever was its last position. This eventually caused the boat to turn 90 degrees to port and we were headed for land! Now, this isn't as dire as it seems in spite of the last exclamation mark. I mean, we were 15 miles from land. That's 3 hours if we're doing really good. But it's easy to see how boats run aground when depending on electronic gizmos. I detached the autopilot, got us back on course and hooked it back up again. Crisis averted. Since the 12V problem still seems to exist, albeit in a much milder form than before and MUCH less frequently*, I think I may just put the GPS and Autopilot on a circuit that has, so far, been unaffected. The diesel heater, which sees only occasional use, is on it's own circuit although it doesn't really draw enough of a load to warrant it. It's also on a separate breaker panel than the one that has the gremlin. I think I'll add the GPS and autopilot to this breaker.
(* this is only the second time we've had a shutdown since I did all the cleaning up of the ground system, and both times were essentially instantaneous.)
At 10:50 PM, we crossed the border and entered Mexican territorial waters. Because there's a jog in the line, this actually happens a few miles north of the California/Mexico land border. But by the time that Lulu woke up we were south of even that line. As planned, we raised the Mexican courtesy flag on our starboard spreader and toasted our arrival with an ice-cold cerveza. Sad to report that it wasn't Pacifico but rather just a Natural Light. But it was beer.
During the night we traded watches at approximately 3-hour intervals although I never did manage to stay down for my full 3 hours. The night was chilly but not too chilly. At one point it pretty much cleared up, revealing a bunch of stars. However, before long, it clouded back up. The big saving grace of the night watches were the dolphins. From the time we crossed the border we had been surrounded by them. Sometime only a couple, sometimes dozens. They'd swim alongside the boat underwater and you could follow them by their phosphorescence. They looked like white dolphins because of the phosphorescence. Sometimes 3 or 4 or more would jump in unison alongside the boat. Who knows what drives them? Then they'd disappear for a few minutes only to startle the crap out of me when they would jump up right alongside a few minutes later. What a treat.
The dolphins were gone by the time it got light. However, with the coast shrouded in fog, there was very little to see. Seas were still calm, as they had been all night, and there was still not much wind. At one point, we could have probably sailed slowly as what little wind we had was coming from our port beam. But at that point we were so close to Ensenada that it seemed foolish to slow down just so we could say we sailed part of the trip.
We entered Bahia de Todos Santos at about 11:00 AM. About noon I started trying to raise the Baja Naval Marina on VHF channel 77. Apparently they couldn't hear me. I tried again about 1/2 later and again about 1/2 hour after that. At one point I heard another boat call them. I couldn't hear the Baja Naval side of the conversation, however, so I waited. As we neared the breakwater at the Ensenada harbor entrance, I tried again. Still no luck. Tried with both the handheld and the main VHF but just couldn't raise anyone. One problem was that my VHFs go down to low power (1W) automatically on channel 77 but still that should have been enough once in the harbor. We finally were approaching the BN docks and still trying in vain to get hold of someone. Normally we would just pick an empty spot, tie up and go check in and then move if we had to. But this time, the marina was small and it was unclear which slips, if any, might be vacant. We were just starting to make another pass-by when a fellow from the adjacent Marina Ensenada waved us over. Not knowing what else to do, we pulled in (another uneventful docking, although we had lots of help on the docks). This place was a little seedy looking but everyone was really nice and they said the cost was the same as at Baja Naval. However, the lady that needed to check us in wasn't there. So a guy who worked there called her and said she'd be here pretty soon. The swell at this marina was amazing. The boat would lurch around at the dock like crazy. You wanted to be sure to have good dock lines and know how to tie up.
We got things on the boat in order and the lady still hadn't shown up. It was about 2:00 by this time. I talked to the guy who worked there and told him we needed to go to town and check into the country. He said that would be fine. We could check in to the marina when we returned. We also asked about bathrooms (none), showers (none), and internet access (none). Hmm.
We followed another cruiser's directions and headed to the central office that houses Immigration, Customs, and the Port Captain. And also conveniently houses a branch of Banjercito Bank so you can pay the various charges. The place was empty when we arrived. After standing there looking lost, a gentleman directed us to Immigración where we hit our first snag. First, the agent just sort of looked at us like he didn't have a clue what it was we wanted. Finally, though, he relented and asked for our crew list. Well, I had spent a lot of time getting all my papers together, filled out, copied and ready. Problem was, since the crew list form I used was in Spanish, I had not filled it in quite right. Seems I had it right for checking out of Ensenada but not for checking in. Not a big problem. I had blanks forms. I filled one in right and went to get copies made. There's a tiny little office conveniently located right outside the door that makes copies for around 25¢ (US) each. Got my copies and returned to Immigration. There was also a small matter of the fact that the form I used was not one he was familiar with. This could have been a problem but he decided to let it slide with the caveat that the Port Captain may not accept it and I'd have to start over. It was never clear just how one went about obtaining a copy of the correct form.
So, we pay our money and then head to the Port Captain's window only to find that they only work until 2:30 even though the rest of the offices are open until 5:00. Oh well, back to the boat.
When we arrived back at the boat, having not yet checked in to the marina, we found ourselves locked out. Fortunately there were some guys on the dock who let us in. We started giving the place a closer look. No bathrooms was a pretty big hurdle to overcome unless the place was REALLY cheap. The lady still hadn't shown so I asked the other guy how much it would cost to stay. He showed me a paper that said it'd be $35/day. WITH NO BATHROOMS? WITH NO SHOWERS? WITH NO WIFI? I don't think so. We told him we were going to walk over to Baja Naval next door and check their prices. He said "no problem" and we went on our way.
The Baja Naval facilities were really nice and they said they'd only charge us $26.50/day. And they have bathrooms. And they have showers (non-coin showers at that!). And they have free wifi. And they even have a phone that you can call the States for free from. It's a voice over IP connection like Skype or Vonage which is why it's free. And, Rojelio, one of the managers (I guess), helps you get all your paperwork in order for checking into the country. And Arturo comes right to your boat to pick up your empty jerry jugs, refills them with diesel, and returns them to your boat. Or, if you need more, they'll arrange for a boat to come by and fill your tank. All in all, a superb marina. Not sure how Marina Ensenada, right next door, gets away with charging $30/night with no services when this is available.
So, we scurried back to the boat. The gate to the dock was closed again and we couldn't see anyone to open the door for us. But Lulu, being Lulu, climbed out on the dock and edged her way around the wooden barrier so she'd be on the other side where she could open the door and let me in. We untied our lines, backed out w/o incident and went over and tied up next door, also w/o incident. Now we're all safe and sound and snug in our slip. We know people on 2 of the boast that are already here. S/V Sterling with Byron and Jessica aboard, we first ran into at Avila Beach (Port San Luis). We also shared the marina at Santa Barbara with them although I don't think they knew we were there. The other boat, Dorial with Pat & Sean aboard, we met at the Marlin Club in Avalon on Catalina Island.
Sorry there aren't any photos but I just plumb forgot to take any. Maybe mañana.