Many of us find excitement in the adrenaline rush during the fleeting moment of an extreme sensation jumping from an airplane, falling from heights held only by a bungee cord, or glazing rocky outcroppings on bat wings, which no doubt are indeed exhilarating, but there is another and perhaps even more poignant excitement which lasts much longer than a moment or two that may come to others from feeling the extreme smallness of yourself while trying to stay alive as Mother Nature teaches you humbleness, self-sufficiency and perseverance as one likely experiences from spending weeks or months climbing Everest, exploring the North or South Pole, or the many storied adventures in which men and women have tested themselves throughout history. I have recently been fortunate enough to experience some of this latter type of exhilaration, particularly while sailing three hundred plus nautical miles from Ensenada B.C. to Bahia de Bartolome on my sailboat. Being my truly first offshore sailing adventure, I was awestruck by the extremeness of holding your very life in your own hands every moment for hours and even days on end, most especially when the lessons became intense.
As it often does, it began slowly. After completing repairs to the bowsprit, checking into Mexico, and enjoying the town of Ensenada for a week, I set sail south headed for Puerto San Bartolome in Bahia de Tortugas, on the Pacific side of Baja California some 300 miles south of Ensenada. Light southwest winds forced us to tack out nearly due west for two days in which we made approximately 100 miles out to sea. The winds were so light and variable that I wasn’t able to work with the self-steering wind vane enough to get it working properly, but as Minerva reaches by herself, I was able to go about a daily routine. The predicted Northwest winds finally came up allowing us to turn southeast following the line of the coast and giving me steady winds to experiment with the steering vane and was able to get it to steer with some semblance of direction at last, though Minerva’s bow veered through 60 degrees of heading before correcting, we were headed in the general direction desired and I was able to get some sleep in 1 hour periods through the night. The makers of the vane proclaim it able to steer “better than you can”, so I reread the directions and with some more experimentation discovered and corrected my errors and lo and behold, she maintained a perfect course! About this time, the early morning light breeze was picking up, and I spent the day pleasantly sailing on open waters with no sight of land or other craft toward my destination at 4.5 knots. Late afternoon brought what appeared to me a frontal system, the barometer was falling, and a three day old forecast called for 30 knot winds, so I reefed down the mainsail, exchanged the big jenny for a smaller jib and settled in. Though the heavy winds didn’t materialize, I felt more comfortable and prepared for the mostly moonless night ahead, roasted a chicken and slept restfully through the night, again, in one hour shifts. I even spent the first hour sleeping on deck under the stars, the first time in too long a time!
With another 130 miles to our destination, a light breeze greeted us with the dawn, so the jenny went back up and I shook out the reef in the main and “Cappy”, the newly dubbed steering vane, guided us on a deep broad reach and directly in line with the following northwest swells at 4 knots, a very pleasant way to sail. Among the daily chores since the house batteries were running low, I fired up the generator to recharge them and I set up the boom brake I had picked up in San Diego two weeks prior. As the morning passed nonchalantly on, the wind began to pick up to 15 to 20 knots and with it our speed increased to 5 to 6 knots, eating up the remaining miles. By early afternoon the wind had shifted to the west and increased to 25 knots picking up the seas to create choppy west wind waves to combine with the 8 to 10 foot NW swell and throwing us around a bit. Cappy seemed to be working harder so I reefed the main to reduce the weather helm but left the jenny pulling hard giving us a faster passage at 6 to 7 knots.
Land Ho! Isla Cedros off the port bow at 1718 hrs. Isla Cedros is just short of Bahia de Tortugas by 40 or 50 miles and was a truly welcome sight, though still some 20 miles distant. By 1800 hrs., the wind shifted to the SW and increased again, so I once again dropped the jenny but instead of battling with my smaller jib, I instead raised the stays’l to help Cappy with holding Minerva’s head down and tucked another reef into the main. I also began to bear a more southerly course giving us some sea room, just in case the wind clocked around even more. However the wind direction remained from the SW allowing us to steer toward our objective and with the following seas, except of course the sloppy 3 foot wind waves. By 2000 hrs., the wind had piped up to 35 knots where it remained and even threw in some gusts to 40. We were now making up to 9 knots and after a steady diet for days of watching the water go by at 3 and 4 knots, seeing us race along at 2 to 3 times our typical speed made me feel like we were flying! All night was spent standing in the cockpit feeling the adrenaline coursing through my veins as the sea gave me yet another lesson, the most advanced to date, in an introductory course of heavy weather sailing and was immeasurably impressed at how Minerva takes it all in stride, racing along under nearly minimum canvas. Cappy steered on constantly for hours providing relief from the arduous task of steering, gaining a valued and prominent status on board ship. The nearly half moon remained above the horizon most of the night shining on the tormented waters lighting our way to safe harbor. I was finally able to make out the lighthouses from Cedros and Punta Eugenia and a faint glow of “city” lights appeared on the horizon marking our destination, giving rise to hope for a respite from all of the excitement soon. The winds finally began to abate somewhat as we drew into the lee of the headlands but with a wind shift and a necessary change of direction to get even closer to our goal, we were forced to change tack to port and me not being familiar enough with the workings of Cappy’s needs, ended up hand steering for the last three hours till dawn when I could see what needed to be done in order to have him attend the wheel again. By dawn the worst was long over and a moderate breeze prevailed, requiring another shaking out of one of the reefs in the main. By 0900 hrs., we sailed past Kelp Punta into Bahia de Tortugas and calm waters. In another hour and a half Minerva was resting at anchor amidst a fleet of 5 other sailboats and several fishermen. The sun was shining, the wind was nearly calm, and all was well as yet another passage through adventure was at an end.