Westward Ho'Okele - Dispatch 11

Westward Ho’Okele: Dispatch Eleven

The Road to Ensenada

“The road to Ensenada
Is plenty wide and fast.
If you head south from Tijuana
Then I'll see you at last
I'll see you there at last.”

-Lyle Lovett

The Road to Ensenada

By Peter Swanson

Phase One of Ho’Okele’s voyage to Hawaii was nearing an end. And her crew-Chef Charles and I-were anxious to get home. The 37-foot trawler had left Key West 48 days before, and Charles had been aboard for nearly 40 days.

Between us and home lay “the road to Ensenada,” 700 miles of coastwise cruising from our last port at Cabo San Lucas. Sailors call this northward trek “The Baja Bash” for its contrary currents, seas and wind; all of it in penance for the wonderful sleighride they had enjoyed southbound.

For the first couple days out of Cabo, we got some bash, particularly at night, as we coasted about five miles off the peninsula’s bold shore. On the third night, I logged a “six-foot chop” the waves ran so close together. Up we’d go, then down; Up, then down, Up, then Kaabooooom! We’d do a belly flop that sounded like the hull was getting whacked with a telephone pole. Every time we’d go up, I’d kind of tighten my stomach in anticipation of a pounding.

But because the pounding was intermittent-perhaps one in ten waves-I kept the throttles where they were-turning at 1600 RPMs, which continued to give us 6.5 knots over the ground.

The next day we steamed until shortly after 4 p.m., when we arrived at the fishing village in the lee of the quaintly named Punta Abreojos, about 300 miles north of Cabo San Lucas. The name translates as Open Your Eyes Point, because of several shallow water hazards in the area. We anchored in 15 feet of water near the beach and enjoyed a full night’s sleep.

We left at sunup the next day never to be bashed again, enjoying calm seas all the way to Ensenada. The deckhouse settee faced to starboard, and sitting there looking through Ho’Okele’s big ports was like watching an endless reel of some of the most dramatic scenery on the planet. Other-worldly is how I would describe it, as if we were floating on a lunar sea made of real water.

At one point, I remember three mountains in a row, each different. One was the color of charcoal, the other speckled with sparse vegetation, and the third made of pink rock. I regretted that we had neither the time, nor the inclination to linger at Magdelena or Turtle Bay, but we could ill afford to squander our fine weather window.

Too bad, because this incredible peninsula is truly Mexico’s last frontier. I’ve made several road trips to Baja over the years, and have always dreamed of cruising up the Sea of Cortez. That is, the other side of the peninsula.

As we steamed northward, California Grey Whales were steaming south. We saw plenty and heard even more, as the whales loudly exhaled plumes of spray into the air. Nor were they the only marine mammals. At one point we passed a migrating battalion of pacific white-sided dolphins heard the Luggers and charged toward Ho’Okele by the hundreds. Amazing how swiftly they swim, I thought, as the leaders took turns rubbing their backs on our bow wake. I noticed, too, that water temperature had dropped to 67 degrees, a dramatic contrast to the 80-degree waters we enjoyed off “mainland” Mexico.

As passed between the peninsula and the big island of Cedros, I got to thinking about how dangerous the outer coast could be in the event of engine failure. It was, after all, a 700-mile lee shore. I wondered how many hours it would take for the wind and Pacific sea swell to put a boat like ours onto that sawblade coast, and I was comforted by the rumbling of not one, but two motors beneath my feet.

Night reinforced our sense of being totally alone-no other boats, no lights ashore, no radio traffic. Night was cold, and with a desert clarity unknown to us on the East Coast. So intense were the stars and the Milky Way that it seemed like we were no longer traveling beneath, but through them. We were cruising through space.

From my home base, I had heard descriptions of another voyage in the opposite direction. I remember waving to Boundary Waters, a 50-foot Nordhavn, as she approached Panama. She was making the journey from Dana Point California to Florida. Accounts of the Nordhavn’s mechanical breakdowns and bad weather decisions had been posted for all to see on www.trawlerworld.com (search for “travels”). I couldn’t begin to fathom how a crew of four in such a reputable and well-equipped vessel and with the help of a professional weather router could be doing so badly compared to Chef Charles and I aboard Ho’Okele.

And it worried me.

With two days left to get to Ensenada, I remembered Das Boot, a German film following the course of a World War II U-boat mission. As you may recall, the crew survives all manner of horrific challenges only to be slaughtered by an Allied air attack just moments before they reach the protection of the concrete sub pens at LaRochelle in France.

I imagined a similar fate for Ho’Okele, some huge screw-up or uncharted pinnacle that would wreck our trip just as safety-in our case, Ensenada-was within reach.

Happily that was not to be.

The Super Bowl had just begun as we rounded Punta Banda and steamed toward the pink hotel and red cargo cranes that loom high over Ensenada. In a breeze we would have also seen a Mexican flag the size of Kansas, but the air was still. From Cabo, our passage  had taken five days.

We made it! That night we would hoist our glasses at Hussong’s Cantina, the 100-year-old bar around which Ensenada had grown. Salud a todos. Ho’Okele would wait for weather to cross to Hawaii at the Baja Naval b oatyard, one of the finest facilities of its kind in any country.

’Til next time.

Here are the statistics:

Days since Ho’Okele left Green Cove Springs, Florida: 58

Days since Ho’Okele left the U.S.: 53

Days under way: 33

Days under way since leaving U.S.: 30

Distance traveled in nautical miles (approx.): 4,400

Average miles per day since leaving U.S.: 147

Miles per Gallon (approx.): 2,024

Total engine hours: 793 each

Gallons per hour overall: 2.6

Usually running RPMs: 1,650

Average knots underway: 6.5 - 6.7

Total cost of fuel: US$3,400



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