The Baja Bash

If it’s true that gentlemen never sail to weather then what the hell am I doing here, I wondered as my knees slammed into the foredeck at the trough of yet another wave.
Author:
Publish date:
Baja-Bash

If it’s true that gentlemen never sail to weather then what the hell am I doing here, I wondered as my knees slammed into the foredeck at the trough of yet another wave. Four of us were pulling down the big headsail and stuffing it into the forward hatch while tethered to the big former Whitbread Race winner Alaska Eagle. We were pulling Gs on the way up, and were airborne on the way down, and it occurred to me that we would hang off the jacklines like so many tea bags if we were ever swept under the lifelines.

The notorious Baja Bash is a West Coast phenomenon, usually left to paid delivery captains or unfortunate cruisers who need to get out of Mexico before hurricane season nullifies their insurance. An unavoidable trip for anyone returning to San Diego from Los Cabos, it is the flipside of the downwind Baja Ha-Ha rally, which takes place each fall. The calmest weather is in November and December, but most cruisers make the run north at the change of the seasons in April and May. It’s the ultimate bad plan: sailing to weather against prevailing winds and seas along 800 miles of open coastline. With a strong engine and some cooperation from the wind gods, it’s possible to do it in 10 days.

Traditional wisdom dictates that boats headed north should hug the coast to avoid a thrashing. The tactic is to run when you can, hide when you have to and don’t even try to keep a schedule. The goal is to make headway whenever possible, even if only in short spurts, because if you wait for a two-week weather window in the Pacific, you’ll be waiting a while.

With a reef in the main, we motorsailed the first part of our delivery from Cabo to Turtle Bay, about halfway to San Diego, where we ducked in for a night’s rest. Turtle is the only stop between Cabo and Ensenada where you can get fuel, provisions and medical care (if necessary). The second half of the trip started out much like the first, as we ran the rhumb line, staying four to 40 miles off the coast, and avoided the capes with their contrary 2- to 3-knot currents. For a total of eight days, we enjoyed “Lake Pacifica” conditions, when the ocean is flat, the coast appears gray and featureless in the distance, and the nights are black except for the stars reflecting off the water below. Even the radar stayed mostly blank until we got closer to the U.S. border. Pushing along under motor into the blackness, it was like riding a giant worm through outer space.

Although most of our trip was uncharacteristically quick and easy, the Bash wasn’t going to let us pass without a fight, and the last day served up 30-35 knot headwinds and 20-foot breaking seas. Spray was everywhere, and with the screaming wind, we couldn’t hear from one end of the 65-foot boat to the other. On the bow, every other wave sent a cold rush of saltwater down my foulies, and I couldn’t help chuckling, remembering the advertisement that said they were “breathable.” I was barely breathing, much less my clothes. 

It was the last but longest 90 miles of the trip, a reminder of how hard the entire passage could have been—and often is—a long and harsh slog, and an indelible lesson in how to sail upwind and almost avoid a beating. 

Related

shutterstock_543237994

The Slow Route to Cabo

Each November, cruising boats start leaving California for “a winter of fun in the sun down Mexico way.” And having spent the summer and autumn on a leisurely passage down the West Coast on board Distant Drummer, our Liberty 458 sloop, my husband, Neil, and I were now in San ...read more

MHS-GMR_3549

New Multihulls 2018

Farrier F-22 New Zealander Ian Farrier ushered in a new genre of sailing with his folding-ama trailerable trimarans, the best-known of which are the Corsair designs. Farrier’s last project before he passed away last year was this sweet little tri. Available in three versions, ...read more

shutterstock_373701682

Cruising: Island Comeback

The U.S. Virgins Islands have surged back from the devastation of the 2017 hurricanes, with new infrastructure plans that will benefit charterers and cruisers alike. After hurricanes Irma and Maria roared through the Leeward Islands in September 2017, it was impossible to ...read more

albintoilet

Gear: Albin Pump Marine Toilet

Head Start Is there room for a new marine toilet? Albin Pump Marine thinks so, having just introduced its line of Swedish-built heads—ranging from compact to full-size models—to the American market. The toilets feature vitreous porcelain bowls and either wooden or thermoplastic ...read more

07n_45R2699

Multihull Sailor: Classic Cats

If you’re looking for a decent sub-40ft cruising cat, you have few choices when it comes to new-boat offerings. It is a well-known fact that the multihull market has taken off in a way very few could have predicted. Despite Hurricane Irma’s recent destruction of a large part of ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com Thanks a bunch  This scene is very calm and seamanlike. No frantic rope throwing or shouting. As he passes the line to the gent on the dock, the crew on the boat says, quietly and clearly, “Would you ...read more