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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.

The Plan

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.

Puerto Escondido, Baja California Sur seen from hill to the south

We moored in Puerto Escondido for a week while provisioning.

On the computer at outdoor pizza restaurant

On the internet to do our taxes. Most cruisers were distancing and staying masked when ashore.

Barb enjoying Tosti Elotes

Mental health care, via yummy meals like Tosti Elotes!

Getting South

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.

Playa el Quemado hiking trail near Tripui

Physical health care, by hiking up one branch of the scenic Playa el Quemado trail, near Tripui.

Mobula Rays leaping from Sea of Cortez

Several anchorages, like Punta el Pallebote, featured large schools of rays practising their flying skills.

Mobula Ray leaping out of water

A closer look at a leaping Mobula Ray.

Beach campers near La Paz

We broke our self-imposed quarantine once, to help beach campers stranded by a dead battery. We rowed Lilith (our dinghy engine battery) ashore and got them restarted - avoiding a 10 km desert trek.

Barb fileting fish

In appreciation, they dropped off a Barred Pargo they had speared, and we enjoyed some delicious meals of fish tacos!

Bahia La Ventana, Baja California Sur

Our last anchorage was off the lengthy beach at Bahia La Ventana (which humourously translates as Bay Window).

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.

Towels surrounding our cockpit for shade

We spent the last couple days hiding from the hot sun and finishing our boat checks.

Dawn at La Ventana

2 May 2020: Departure Morning. Hoping the winds will kick in soon!

Barb and Bjarne on day of departure

Our inaugural weekly selfie.

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!

Very flat sea

What a smooth sea looks like. We are moving, as evidenced by the bubbles and ripples, but barely. Plenty of time to admire the beautiful blue.

Wiggly track during low wind

No, we hadn't been downing tots o' rum - this is what our track looked like while we were taking advantage of every little zephyr and breath of wind.

Mizzen the bird

Mizzen kept us company overnight, and displayed a strong preference for oats. Not a fan of dried cranberries.

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.

AIS display of many freighters near Baja California

Popcorn and music passed the time, as did watching for all the freighters heading past Baja on their way to/from Panama and ports in S. America. We are the red bullseye about 250 km from the Baja seen in the overlaid satellite map; other ships are green triangles.

Barb and Bjarne after a week at sea

Celebrating a week at sea. We marked the occasion (and each subsequent week) with a chocolate bar - the participation award, says Barb. Soon after, our course veered north and we officially left the tropics, crossing the Tropic of Cancer (23°26′ N latitude).


Another overnight guest. We didn't feed this booby, as it was a better fisher than us.

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.

Pantropical Spotted Dolphin pod cavorting around our boat

For half an hour we thrilled at the antics of about 40 Pantropical Spotted Dolphins playing about our boat. Yes, the water really is that blue!

Squid lying on deck

One ingredient we didn't add to our menu was squid - a small version of The Kraken thumped onto our deck one morning, but was released after we took its mugshot.

Freighter partly hidden by swell

The higher winds also lumpified the sea - even large freighters could disappear behind swells.

Improving Mood

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.

Barb and Bjarne after 2 weeks at sea

After two weeks at sea!

We weren't chomping up the miles but were more than nibbling at them. Our mood was improving although the variable winds interfered with rest. Even if the off-watch person wasn't called upon for sail changes, the process is noisy, especially when the big metal carabiner on the safety line is clunking around on the deck. Early evening was particularly busy as we: reported on the day's progress; downloaded, read, wrote and sent emails; made our navigational decisions; prepared and ate dinner; did the dishes; and, had our radio date with Apsara (another yacht outbound from Mexico, headed for Hawai'i).

Rainbow on the Pacific

The end of the calms brought a mix of higher and lower winds, showers and sun, heat and coolness.

The Pacific high was still not where it is supposed to be, and was messing up our plans. What should have been tailwinds ended up being headwinds and squalls associated with a cold front. Squalls require immediate attention to sails and don't care about meal times. One episode, which brought 20-25kts followed by a sloppy lull, resulted in bonus points to Bjarne for preparations made under duress while his bruschetta (with a side of refritos) earned the title "rockstar lunch". We Rinsed and Repeated. Seas built to 9-10' causing splashes and crashes. The winds were not horrendous but our course was heading us back towards Mexico, the waves sucked, and we were tired! Just after sunset we decided to heave-to and wait for the front to pass. Not having practiced heaving-to much on this boat it took a while to figure out the best way to do it (how much main and how much jib to keep the balance), but once it was sorted we both took turns getting some rest.

Sunrise after cold front

The next morning the wind had swung around and seas calmed so we resumed sailing west. Our noon-to-noon progress that day was a painful 55 miles. We heard from Kim on Amazing Grace (another boat out there sharing our ocean) that he had been blown farther east than us during the front and had an even more unpleasant night.

Last Half

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.

Barb and Bjarne after 3 weeks

Marking three weeks into the passage. Although smiling here, our moods were toned down by fatigue, the ubiquitous dampness, tedium, and challenges with the weather. We were grateful for the propane furnace (fired up for the first time in five years), and, of course, the chocolate bar!

Clump of rope and plastic garbage in the Pacific Gyre

For 5 or 6 days we were sailing near the Pacific Garbage Patch - the area where the swirl of currents and winds concentrate floating trash. Most of it is plastic, in pieces from large to microscopic; we spotted a laundry basket, a stepstool, dozens of floats, and hundreds of unidentifiable smaller pieces.

Movie: setting sun hiding and revealing behind swell

We got to enjoy this sunset several times thanks to the long swell.

View from the cockpit on a moderately windy day

Gray day: view from the cockpit while we are zipping along.

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.

Barb and Bjarne dressed for cold

We added on the layers to deal with fog and drizzly overcast skies, while celebrating the short bouts of sunshine or stars.

Sailboat Amazing Grace in front of Cosco freighter

Nearing the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca we finally spy the sailboat Amazing Grace. Most of the passage we had been between 50 to 100 miles apart, but now the narrow entrance dictated converging courses. Vancouver island was revealed with the dawn's light on May 30th - land ho!- but was soon obscured by fog.

Bjarne at helm

Ironically, we couldn't take full advantage of the great winds that were blowing down the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We didn't want the excitement of meeting up with a brief gale near Race Rocks so intentionally slowed to a crawl throughout the night. Dinner centered around potatoes - some of the few things remaining that resembled fresh produce.

f Race Rocks, Victoria with Olympic Mountains in background

Race Rocks lighthouse marks the turn into Victoria!


Barb at helm

Final run past Royal Roads and Esquimalt, to Victoria. We zipped through the last 10 miles in an hour and 20 minutes - fun!

Barb and Bjarne at Customs Dock

Arriving at the Customs Dock in Victoria Harbour, 29 days, 3 hours and 11 minutes after pulling up anchor in Mexico.

Greeting party at Wharf St dock

Our hearts were warmed by the surprise greeting party at the dock! Thanks Connie, Peter, Adam, Edie, Debbie, Lynn, and Daragh!

Hoku Paa track from Mexico to Victoria

Our track, one pin each day.

Amongst cruisers (and probably the-world-will-enders) there is reverence for Wonder Bread, which is reputed to have a shelf life of many months. The equivalent Mexican brand is Bimbo Bread. We conducted an experiment to see whether the urban legends are true, and bought a loaf of Bimbo at the end of March in Loreto. We stuffed it under our settee until we reached Victoria.

An 8-week old loaf of Bimbo bread after passage, still good

8 weeks and 3000+ miles later we enjoyed this Bimbo bread for lunch - still fluffy and not moldy. Amazing!

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