Byline: Capt. Pat Rains
Editor’s Note: Capt. Pat Rains and her husband, Capt. John Rains, left San Diego Nov. 6 on the Fleet Under Way to Baja Rally (FUBAR) — an offshore powerboat cruise taking 35 boats from Southern California to La Paz. Here is the second installment of their FUBAR adventure story:
In the last issue of The Log, we left the FUBAR powerboat fleet hunkered down in two separate anchorages inside Bahia Tortugas, or Turtle Bay. The early winter storm that slammed them for two nights was unusually intense — down to only 1005 millibars of atmospheric pressure.
Earlier that day, winds from the southwest had reached 25 knots, with frequent gusts above 30, exposing the normal anchorage off the town pier to uncomfortable short-period 3- to 4-foot waves. That’s why most of the FUBAR participants — or “FUBARistas” — had upped anchor and scooted 2.5 miles across Turtle Bay to the southern corner, known locally as El Rincon. In southwest conditions, that corner enjoys shelter from hilly Thurloe Head.
But El Rincon is a smaller anchorage than it first appears, because shoals jut a quarter-mile out from the south beach and because, at high tides, some breaking seas come right over the top of the outer reef to the west. To make matters worse, as twilight approached, the last few boats trying to get into El Rincon encountered strings of nearly 200 aquaculture buoys that blocked their access into that anchorage.
We all knew that when this storm front passed Turtle Bay during the night, strong wind would shift back to the north, exposing El Rincon to its full fury. With buoys now blocking their exit, would all those boats be able to get out in time?
FUBAR organizers had planned a big party for us that evening at Enrique’s Restaurant next to the town pier. Water taxis were employed to shuttle FUBARistas from the north anchorage to the pier. But with rain and wind increasing, many of the cruisers anchored in the north end explained on VHF radio that they were “not willing to risk life and limb by attempting to leap from a bounding panga onto the crumbling iron stairs of the pier” at Turtle Bay.
Meanwhile, the other contingent placidly anchored at El Rincon didn’t realize the storm’s fury. So, when only a few water taxis showed up, the FUBARistas tried to hail them on VHF Channel 68, promising big tips and other bribes if they’d just shuttle them — boat by boat — up to town for the party.
As the storm intensified, those long panga rides across the open mouth of Turtle Bay got slower, wetter, wilder and more challenging. One panga full of passengers ran out of fuel in the middle and had to be towed back south to El Rincon. That was announced as the last water taxi of the night.
The hardiest FUBARistas who had already made it to the party in town got to scarf down all the food and beverages, and dance to the live music of a local band that had been practicing all week for their big gig. I don’t know when — or how —- those FUBARistas got back to their boats.
Dawn brought vivid clarity to the Turtle Bay situation, along with a temporary lessening of winds that had abruptly changed direction from southwest to northwest. During this two- or three-hour grace period, all those boats wedged haphazardly into El Rincon managed to untangle themselves one by one, with lots of humorous commentary on VHF radio about whose anchor chain was laid out on top of whose anchor.
They all made a safe and orderly exit, preserving the image of Corinthian yachting etiquette.
By late morning, the fleet was under way for a 30-hour run down to Bahia Magdalena, which most cruisers call “Mag Bay.” The lone exception was the 28-foot Brown-Eyed Girl, the smallest boat in the FUBAR group. Its crew had ducked out a day earlier, heading down to Isla Asuncion to spend the night.
Outside Turtle Bay, the sea was still lumpy from the storm. But as we turned southeast, the 8-foot long-period swell was on our starboard aft quarter, and the wind dropped to about 10 knots from the same direction. Sunny skies began to warm the air and water.
Many avid sport anglers in the fleet reported catching dorado — lots of them — starting about 50 miles downhill from Turtle Bay, just in sight of Isla Asuncion. With much local knowledge, Brown-Eyed Girl’s owner, Larry Lucore, had spent the night there, getting an earlier start at the best fishing we’d encountered so far. Dorado catches made everyone happy.
Dawn found us on Thetis Banks, the fabulous offshore fishing banks northwest of Cabo San Lazaro. The fleet spent much of the day hauling in big dorado, yellowtail and an occasional billfish.
Many of the anglers and some of the slower boats opted to anchor for that night inside Bahia Santa Maria, which lies just outside Mag Bay. The slower boats couldn’t make it all the way into Mag Bay before dark anyway.
The rest of us continued to Bahia Magdalena, entering between Punta Entrada and Punta Redondo. By late afternoon, we dropped the hook in a blessedly calm Man of War Cove, off the small community called Puerto Magdalena. We all got our first good night’s sleep after two rough nights at anchor in Turtle Bay and long night watches under way at sea.
The only eatery in Man of War Cove is tiny Restaurante Miramar, which normally seats 12 people. But the FUBAR anglers brought in plenty of fresh dorado and yellowtail, and the restaurant’s chef, Ishmael, and his many assistants cleaned, battered and deep-fried the catch to perfection.
About 175 FUBARistas swarmed ashore for the evening fish feast, sitting on giant whale bones along the beach and on plastic chairs borrowed from neighbors.
Right after the party, many boaters opted to depart in the dark for an overnight run down to Cabo San Lucas, to arrive the next morning. However, those first to depart got tangled up in an unlit aquaculture operation located about a mile southeast of Man of War Cove (at 24 37.5N, 112 06.3W).
The first FUBARista to spot the hazard to navigation shined a spotlight on it and warned those behind him on VHF radio. All the cruisers passed it without incident but kept a sharper eye on the water.
The next morning, the port captain of Puerto Magdalena visited all the remaining boats. He asked if we needed anything, and he sent around a panga to collect our trash bags. He asked us to enter our boat names and voyage information into his ledger, which we did. No further port clearance was required here.
By noon, we were almost the last FUBAR boat to depart Mag Bay. We planned to follow a straight course from Punta Tosca to Cabo Falso. We wanted to save fuel by running at 8 knots, which would put us into San Lucas Bay just after sunrise, when we had a slip reserved at IGY Marina.
As our course took us farther offshore during the night, the long-period swell built to 8 feet — so, we were surfing downhill with a 1-knot push from the current.
Several boats around me during my “midnight sleigh ride” reported having trouble with their autopilots not handling the larger down-swell conditions. Some FUBARistas broke out their manuals and recalled how to crank up the response times, while others had to hand steer in the dark — not fun.
As we closed with land, we learned that little Brown-Eyed Girl had lost not only its autopilot but also all electrical power — leaving no radar, radio or running lights.
To hand steer, the crew — three hardy firefighters — had to hold a flashlight over the ship’s compass, so they had decided to move closer along shore where the seas were tamer. If that had been a gasoline-powered boat, they’d have been dead in the water with no juice for ignition.
Many of the fleet wanted to slow down to avoid making landfall on Cabo Falso in the dark. But because of the fast-moving following seas, that amplified their steering problems.
Also, most of us seemed to be steering toward the same waypoint, so we had to take care not to bunch up too much. The Automatic Identification System (AIS) radio system helped a lot.
We opted to break away from the pack and round the famous arches of Land’s End before sunrise. Once in the outer bay, we drifted languidly on station, well away from the busy inner harbor jetties, while we waited for the marina to open.
At first light, the mass exodus of charter boats zoomed out the jetties, gone for the day. When the approaches were clear, we prepared to enter the inner harbor and find our slip. IGY Marina staff members went out of their way to accommodate the FUBAR fleet and give us a welcome party.
Cabo San Lucas was planned to be the first of our many pleasure stops in balmy Sea of Cortez cruising conditions. Plans, as we found out, are written in pencil for good reason.
One of the benefits of joining the FUBAR cruise is having a qualified mechanic traveling with the fleet.
For example, out in the middle of Bahia Vizcaino north of Cedros Island, boaters aboard Thor, a 57 Nordhavn, notified the fleet that their engine had started to overheat. The shaft on the raw-water pump had failed, and no replacement was on board. Thor’s skipper shifted to the wing engine and made it into Turtle Bay.
Unfortunately, there was no expeditious way of getting a new raw-water pump shipped into Turtle Bay and still keep Thor moving south along with the FUBAR schedule.
Fortunately, Bob Center — also known as “Diesel Bob” and the fleet’s mechanic — happened to be a crewmember aboard Thor. Center is the chief public relations mechanic of Northern Lights.
With creative ingenuity, Center rigged the boat’s air-conditioning circulation pump with a long hose secured across the engine room, to provide cooling to the main John Deere engine. Amazing! Neither this problem nor its fix could have happened to a dry-stack boat with a keel cooler.
The replacement part would be waiting when Thor arrived at La Paz, the group’s destination. With that jury-rigged fix in place, Thor continued on the FUBAR from Turtle Bay southward at full-cruise speed.
Cruisers Enjoy Dinghy Poker Run
FUBAR participants have enjoyed many activities at the various cruise stops, including a Dinghy Poker Run. The purpose of this fun contest is to encourage boaters to get their dinghies in good working order and to sharpen their small-boat maneuvering skills and teamwork — all of which are needed even more in Mexico cruising than in stateside boating.
Three boats with roomy swim steps and aft cockpits volunteered to be the “card dealers.” They were the Nordhavn Helen B 2, the Cheoy Lee Lionesse and the Selene Ernestly. Dinghies had to approach each dealer’s swim step one at a time, demonstrate they could tie up with a proper bowline or figure eight on the cleat, and then answer one or more nautical trivia questions.
Dealers judged each dinghy crew’s skills, then awarded one or more sealed envelopes containing one or more playing cards. Dealers were occasionally bribed with penny candy and empty promises. When one dinghy departed for the next dealer boat, another dinghy could approach.
At the end of one hour, the dinghy crews gathered behind Helen B 2, opened their envelopes and put together their poker hands. Trading was rampant.
The best poker hands won prizes donated by West Marine of Shelter Island in San Diego — and everyone won something.
Check out the Dec. 23-Jan. 5 issue of The Log for the next installment of our FUBAR 2011 adventures.