Passage - Mexico to Victoria
"It's hard work sailing all the time." Tony Gooch, 2003
The 29 days at sea during our passage from Mexico to Victoria presented us a long time to experience the highs and lows of cruising. Even before untying from shore we had a long lead-up of preparing, provisioning, all while preventing ourselves from catching any diseases. Here's how it all came together to get us home.
Jimmy Cornell's World Cruising Routes advises to not depart too soon on a passage north from Mexico, as winter storms are still frequent in the north Pacific. Additionally, one shouldn't leave too late as the hurricane season offshore of Mexico starts around mid-May. Thus we decided to make our way to Los Frailes near the south tip of the Baja and be ready to leave around the beginning of May. Further, we wanted to build in a 2-week quarantine pre-departure to ensure we didn't catch something and become ill while in the middle of the ocean. So we finished provisioning mid-April, missing out on a few key items like inexpensive alcohol and certain fresh provisions due to increasing COVID-19 restrictions.
Before we could head north for home, we had to go south. We were located near Loreto, several hundred miles from Cabo San Lucas at the tip of the Baja. Strong northerly winds which dominate the winter weather, and which would have propelled us south quickly, died away at the beginning of April, leaving us to drift slowly along. We weren't in a terrible hurry, since we wished to have about 14 days between our last contact with humans and when we left Mexico. Discussions over just how much of our 140 litres of diesel we could afford to burn so early in the trip ensued. We had to balance our desire to anchor before sunset against possibly needing to motor through calms when stuck later in the middle of the north Pacific high. The seas were tranquil, and the anchorages interesting.
Time To Go
Initially we had thought to hop from Bahia La Ventana down to Los Frailes, and then jump off from there. However, the forecast warned of a patch of windless water developing soon several hundred miles west of Baja, spreading widely and then lasting at least 9 days. We didn't want to get stuck in that no-go zone, so we bumped up our departure plans to leave the next morning.
Though light winds were "scheduled" in a few days, rounding Cabo San Lucas was an upwind sail in sloppy rough seas - bad enough that Barb dreamed of riding a water toboggan, worrying about dodging trees. Our initial course had us heading south-west, but over the next few days as we distanced ourselves from land, the wind direction veered and allowed us to gradually curve onto a westerly course. Good progress on the 5th May was tempered by our annoyance at discovering not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 leaks allowing the constant waves washing over the decks to come uninvited inside. It would have been nice to have known about these leaks beforehand, but spending the last 5 seasons cruising in a desert area wasn't conducive to finding them. Luckily, we patched two of the leaks with wax and towels took care of the other two. The ocean would continue its quest to climb aboard as the passage continued.
Who Has Seen the Wind?
Despite our best efforts, we were caught in those foretold light winds on May 6th. The following week marked a low-point for our spirits. We wanted to stay ahead of the totally-dead-air patch, which was creeping westward at slightly faster than we could sail. Our shore-based weather support (thanks Connie!) reported that the winds would continue light for the entire week - we read that email while completely becalmed so the news seemed especially bad! Even though we know things change, it is hard to keep it in mind sometimes. Our hope for reaching the trades (farther south this year than usual) and making good speed was stymied. Instead, we struggled against swell, adjusting course and sails constantly to keep moving, frequently hand-steering. For 6 consecutive days we averaged 70 miles daily progress, almost half of what we had wished for. One particularly futile hour we advanced a mere 1/2 mile, and were joking that our orange-peels were floating past faster than we were moving. Our dreams took on themes like being stuck in mud, trying to tow the boat with a truck, and being unable to reach the pier. We started re-calculating how long our water and food supply would last. It turns out those calculations were very helpful for improving our perspective and confidence. If the trip took a long time we would be fine.
Brightening our mood was a mid-afternoon arrival of a visitor. A purple-black bird dropped in and squatted on the foredeck, looking rather pooped. Given that the nearest land was 300 miles away, that was understandable. We named our friend Mizzen!
Nights were warm, and through some light clouds we had comfort from a near-full moon. We spotted Crux (Southern Cross) low on the horizon, and now getting lower with each mile we sailed. Early Europeans thought these stars formed a cross, some Maori saw it as an anchor and other Polynesians used it to find the latitude of (what is now) Honolulu. We cottoned on that there was a pattern to the wind - it would fade away overnight and early morning, pick up a bit after noon, and be decent around sunset. We learned to focus more on each mile as it passed under the keel, rather than how many more we had left.
Back on Track
May 12 marked the start of reasonable progress and lightening of our spirits - we made 93.3 miles that day, and 131.7 the next. Our log reads "it's a huge relief to be moving steadily, without need for intervention, without much heel and at least close to our course, at a reasonable speed." That's about as good as it gets!
Barb tried a culinary experiment, inspired by the drink called jamaica in Mexico, which consists of hibiscus flower petals steeped (like tea) in hot water. She added a handful of dried petals (which are inexpensive) to a batch of muffins, and the result was very tasty.
An inventory confirmed that we had plenty of food, so our Quartermaster authorized an Increase in the Treat Rations! There's no point in arriving with left-over goodies. Chips and Coke helped balance out the nutrition from our vegetables & fruits (tomatoes, oranges, apples, potatoes, and jicama) which were keeping fine although in limited quantities. Homemade chocolate pudding was another yummy snack.
North of 30 degrees latitude it got noticeably cooler, especially at night. We started wearing long pants and toques to stay warm on watch. By now, Apsara had arrived in Hawai'i, leaving Amazing Grace and us to carry on toward Vancouver Island.
Barb's birthday (May 20th) was marked by light winds but since we had passed the halfway mark, we permitted more motoring. The calm conditions meant Bjarne could decorate the cabin and bake a cake - chocolate upside-down (yes, it was supposed to be that way). A lightly doctored piña colada provided an extra treat.
Instead of a nice coherant high pressure system we had several highs and a low to figure out how to wend past. Of course it could be much worse, but the topic of teleportation came up more than once. We carried on with our daily progress reports and planned how best to take advantage of the long-awaited southerly winds from the approaching low pressure system, without straying too close to its storm-force region.
Bouncy seas made everything an adventure, resulting in spills and minor injuries. Even lying in bed was reminiscent of roller-coaster rides. Nonetheless, the wind direction gradually improved so we didn't need to be close-hauled.