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Coastal Cruising -- Baja or Bust!

Since purchasing our first sailboat in 2016 my wife, Sally, and I have been preparing for our ultimate goal

of coastal cruising. To prepare and refresh our rusty sailing skills we joined Club Nautique in 2018. We

also moved aboard our boat to fully immerse ourselves in the liveaboard lifestyle. We were the typical

“Bay sailors” with frequent day trips around the bay, weekend sail-outs with the Emeryville Yacht Club,

and an occasional trip down to Half Moon Bay or Monterey. We focused on polishing our sailing skills

and becoming familiar, and confident, with our boat. Everything was going swimmingly, then life

happened. COVID, and our government’s response, threw us all a major curve ball. Given our job

requirements and work life considerations, we decided to move off the boat and relocate to Vancouver,

WA. The ensuing three years, 2020-2022, afforded us only limited opportunities to spend time on the

boat and sailing the bay. Our coastal cruising dream was dimmed, but not dead. Then one day an old

sailor’s query and sage advice came to my mind “If not now, when? You will never be fully ready to go

out the gate and turn left; therefore, just do it. Go for it!”

The fast-approaching 2023 Baja Ha-Ha gave us the perfect platform to pursue our inaugural longer range

coastal cruise dream. Given our boat was not yet fully prepared for coastal cruising, we opted to enlist

as crew on someone else’s boat. With our Club Nautique training and our liveaboard experience, we

were highly confident in our capabilities but also realized with over 125 boats registered for the Ha-Ha

rally there is strength in numbers. After two days of sea trials on the bay with the owner of a 2016

Jeanneau 44’ Deck Salon, we were selected as crew. As members of the crew our mission was twofold:

first to assist in the delivery of the boat from Richmond marina to San Diego harbor; and second,

participate in the Ha-Ha (San Diego to Cabo San Lucas, MX).

Delivering the boat from Richmond to San Diego took us 27 days as we hit 11 ports of call. We enjoyed

casual harbor hopping down the California coast – Santa Cruz, Monterey, Morro Bay, Santa Barbara,

Marina del Rey, Malibu, San Pedro/Long Beach, Newport Beach, Catalina Island’s Avalon and Two

Harbors, and Oceanside. Rounding Pt. Conception at 3am in moderately confused seas and thick fog

was a bit tense, as was a pop-up squall along the Huntington Beach shore, but otherwise the weather

and sea state cooperated favorably. It turned out to be a good shake-down cruise for the boat. In

Newport Beach we replaced four older AGM batteries and added two additional solar panels thus

achieving a total of 680 watts on what was originally a woefully under-powered solar grid. This leg of

the trip was great experience for us as we got a lot of “learn-by-doing” experience with entering

unfamiliar ports, anchoring, catching mooring balls, night sailing by radar and AIS, and flying a spinnaker.

We also crossed paths with many other Ha-Ha participants making their way south to San Diego from

points north and west – Vancouver Canada, Washington, Lake Tahoe, and Hawaii to name a few. We

started forming relationships and comradery along the way and learned this is one of the great rewards

of cruising. As for wildlife, we primarily saw flocks of pelicans, pods of dolphins, and annoying sea lions

particularly on the docks in Monterey and Oceanside.

We arrived in San Diego with a week to spare affording us an opportunity to meet other Ha-Ha

participants as they arrived and allowing us to participate in all the customary Ha-Ha festivities –

captain’s meeting, complimentary sailing Mexico seminars, Last Cheeseburger in Paradise party hosted

by West Marine, and the outrageous Halloween costume contest. All good fun! Our Ha-Ha start was

anything but auspicious as we had discovered a crack and water leak in the Yanmar water cooling

housing. Due to this misfortune, we were the last boat to depart San Diego harbor for the start of the

rally down to Cabo. The good news was we made a quick repair with 3M marine grade duct tape (now

102 uses) and 3M 5400 adhesive, and we were back in the game. The first leg was a 72 hour affair from

San Diego to Bahia Tortuga (Turtle Bay). We had fair winds and following seas, so we were able to make

good time. Spending two days at anchor in Bahia Tortuga afforded the Ha-Ha participants to join in the

traditional Turtle Bay baseball game with the local kids. I would describe this more as batting practice

than a ball game. Hundreds of kids and boaters participated, and it was a great success. Donations of

bats, balls, gloves, school supplies followed the game so Christmas came early to these kids. Day two

was the customary beach party with music, burgers, hot dogs, tacos, and beverages. All good fun.

The second leg was 45 hours from Bahia Tortuga to Bahia Santa Maria. The morning rally start time was

greeted by 16-18 knot winds, 4-8’ swells, and confused seas. It was a bit bumpy, but once the seas

quieted, we were able to make good headway. The winds were variable and gusting which caused our

spinnaker halyard to chafe and fail. After a makeshift repair to the halyard, we were able to deploy the

spinnaker and resume the chase. Along the way we managed to land a 31”, 10 lb yellow-fin tuna which

made for some very tasty fillets and tuna sandwiches the following two days. On the second night off

the coast of Bahia Santa Maria we experienced a severe weather system. It put on quite the electric

light show. We, along with dozens of other Ha-Ha participants, elected to hold our positions while the

storm played out over the next 3-4 hours. As the storm gradually passed to the Northeast and the clear,

star-filled skies emerged, we charted our course to Bahia Santa Maria. Quite the experience! Once

anchored and getting some much-needed rest, we were able to partake in the traditional Beach Party on

the cliffs overlooking Bahia Santa Maria. It included an authentic Mexican meal prepared by locals and a

band from La Paz playing classic rock-n-roll cover songs. We ate, drank, and danced the evening away.

A very rustic and unique experience.

The third and final leg was 34 hours from Bahia Santa Maria to Cabo San Lucas. Remnants of the

previous nights storm manifested in 18-25 knot winds with gusts reported north of 30, 6-8’ swells, and a

very turbulent sea state. The conditions were certainly not for the faint of heart. While every boat

skipper owned their own departure decision, the Ha-Ha leadership team elected to delay the official

start of the rally. Those brave souls that ventured out first into the heavy weather reported sea

conditions back to those of us who held at anchor. After weighing all the factors, weather, boat

condition, crew competence and confidence, we elected to jump into the fray. The first three hours was

a roller coaster ride where we struggled to find a rhythm in the mixed set of swells and wind wave. We

persisted and were rewarded with more steady winds in the high teens, 3-4’ swell, and a less turbulent

sea state. As a downhill skier, I equated navigating the sea state to following the fall line down a snow-

covered mountain. Do not fight the flow but follow the fall line and go. The sailing conditions were

ideal with the boat well-balanced on a port tack, 15ᵒ of heel, beam reaching at 9.3 SOG. These ideal

conditions persisted throughout the evening and did not subside until 3am. The balance of the final leg

into Cabo was completed under light variable wind using the spinnaker when possible and/or motor

sailing.

At the end of the 11-day Baja Ha-Ha rally, our boat and crew finished 1 st in Class (44-50’ monohull

sailboat using spinnaker). We were shocked and pleasantly surprised at our 1 st place results; however,

more rewarding for Sally and me was successfully completing our longest coastal cruising experience.

All in all, the 27-day trip from Richmond to San Diego and the 11-day trip from San Diego to Cabo far

exceeded our expectations. We visited a total of 15 ports of call, traveled a total of 1,345 nautical miles

with 258 hours on the water. I will say we exercised all the knowledge and skills acquired through our

training at Club Nautique. We were able to prepare the boat, provision, chart a course, adapt and

execute the course based on weather and conditions, and most importantly do so while maintaining

everyone’s personal health and safety. We also feel thankful for the Baja Ha-Ha rally leadership who

enable sailors and motor yachters alike to partake in a relatively safe and controlled event. The next

edition of the Ha-Ha rally will be the 30 th Anniversary and will kick-off on November 4, 2024. Sally and I

plan to partake once again, and if you have been dreaming of expanding your own coastal cruising

experience, I would encourage you to jump in and take the plunge!

Fair winds and following seas,

Tim and Sally Mueller

Club Nautique members since 2018

Owners: Crazy Horse, 2001 Jeanneau 52.2



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