Friday, April 3, 2009
March Trip Recap IV: The Bash North
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Monday morning at sunrise, we got started north. This is the north half of the Baja Bash. It is called the bash, because you travelling to the northwest directly into the prevailing winds, current and swell. There are also no fuel stops or protected anchorages. In our case, the wind was very light and from the northwest. We motored out of Turtle Bay and then threaded the Dewey Channel between Punta Eugenia and Isla Natividad. Once out of the lee of Isla Natividad and into the Keller Channel, the wind picked up to 14 knots. We spent the afternoon beating north in 14 to 18 knot winds. These winds were in the lee of Isla Cedros about three miles off the coast.
A bit after 4pm, we began to move north out of the lee of the island and winds seemed to wrap around the headlands. The winds rapidly rose to 22-24 knots. We started to reef down and this was first time we tried the second reef on the main. Steep swells were coming around the point at 8 to 12 feet.
As the sun was sinking we started to get gusts at 28 knots or so. Some waves would come over the bow and we would get green water on both the lee and windward decks. We had been tacking to make progress towards the Isla Cedros North Anchorage and the helmsman had to duck breakers that would hit the dodger or go over and soak the tiller. The winds were forecast to drop, but conditions seemed to be getting worse. We did not want to move further north into unprotected waters with the wind rising. It became a race to tack into the anchorage before dark.
The Cedros Island North Anchorage is affectionately called the Yacht Club in one guide we have. The first arrival becomes the commodore, which was Corine in our case. Rest assured that there are no facilities here. The club consists of a 40 0r 50 yard sandy crescent against cliffs that are several hundred feet high. There is a beach that is probably 10 yards wide against the cliffs. The sandy bottom only extends out 50 or 60 feet from the beach. The bottom then drops off rapidly to a couple hundred feet.
Once inshore, the winds dropped off dramatically except in front of some deep canyons that were cut in the cliffs. In front of these arroyos, the wind would funnel and you could get 20+ knot bursts. We had lost the race with sundown and when we arrived it was completely dark. This necessitated a new skill be learned - anchoring by braille. There are no lights here and no other boats for a landmark. We tried to position the boat over a set of GPS coordinates given by the guide. In very close proximity, a distance and direction to a waypoint is not that useful. We started to watch the actual fractions of seconds on the GPS position. You have to do this in two dimensions at once, taking into account a 2 to 3 second delay for the GPS transmission. Given the narrow sandy areas as an anchor drop target, accuracy was fairly crucial. At one point, we were right above the correct coordinates, but I found the anchor had been wedged into the roller chocks on the bow by the heavy seas. It took me a lot of beating and prying to free the anchor and we had to go around a couple more times. We finally dropped the anchor in about 50 feet of water. It was difficult to see the marks on the chain as it went out. I was surprised to see my big red mark at the end as well as the yellow nylon line that secured the bitter end to the post in the chain well. We had 180 feet of chain out. We started a night of slow turns on the anchor. We kept an anchor watch all night and recorded our position and depth every half hour. The depth varied from about 39 to about 70 feet. All of this spinning was done within 60 to 100 feet from the beach.
The beach is a rookery for sea lions and you can hear strange singing all night. Another interesting feature of the place was an enhanced bio-luminescence in the water. When the anchor chain moved rapidly or a sea lion swam by, there would be a turquoise glow about 10 feet below the surface.
In the morning the wind had dropped and we got up at sunrise to to motor sail north. There were still 8 to 10 foot swells north of the island but with lower winds they seemed a lot less menacing than the night before.
In the mid morning, we had a start. The engine coughed and died. I switched diesel tanks and the engine restarted. This was 9 or 10 hours earlier than we expected we would run out. A calculation showed that we were using 1.3 gallons per hour rather than our usual 1.0 gallon. We attributed that to strong currents, headwinds and swell. With q couple hundred miles left to go and the winds dropping, we began to worry quite a bit about fuel. I dropped the rpm from our cruising speed of 2500 down to 2200, hoping that this would save fuel. We don't have fuel gauges and a dipstick was not too useful in the rolling sea. The surface of the water did smooth out as the wind dropped a bit, so we were able to make 3.8 to 4.8 knots. It began to be a game of motoring in a straight line versus trying to beat into the wind and use the sails to help make progress. We must have done various speed-distance calculations in our heads a few hundred times.
In a fairly calm sea, we decided to refill the empty tank from our 16.5 gallons of jerry cans. When I tried to open the tank, I could not turn the cap. I resorted to my largest pair of channel lock pliers to get the cap off. There was a loud "phifft" of air rushing into the tank when I freed the cap. Looking in, I saw a fair amount of fuel. Hmmm, it seems the tank vent was clogged causing a vacuum lock so that no more fuel could be drawn down to the fuel pump. All of a sudden, we had more diesel than we thought. We were just not sure how much more.
We motor sailed in 5 to 8 knot winds for the next day and a half. We would occasionally tack away from the next cape on the coast that we needed to clear. Uneventful miles passed,with a nagging concern about fuel in the background. We kept the motor at 2200 rpm. At one point we sailed for 6 or 8 hours until the wind died back to below 5 knots.
We cleared the narrow channel into Bahia Todos Santos around 9:00 in the morning and made to Marina Coral a bit after 11:00.
When we filled the tanks, I realized that the engine was only using .76 gallons per hour at 2200 rpm. We had made it with plenty of fuel.
So ended our loop that was somewhere between 1000 and 1100 miles over thirteen days with three nights anchored. It was time to sleep for about a day and half.