Fear and Loathing in Cabo San Luca
Caleb Borchers - a Portland native, helped us dial in the boat. The boat, a J/125 sprit boat, is sitting in our warehouse canted up on her side on a 55º angle in her purpose built trailer. The angle of heel on the trailer makes her a “street legal” 8'6” wide so no over width permits are required to tow her around. I spend a day getting the boat upright and set on her other cradle so it's easier to work on. Caleb, a multiple campaign America's Cup bowman and TP52 guru, spent a couple of weeks making some repairs to the boat - jib track that ripped off the deck during the start of the Chicago-Mac race, tweaking the running and standing rigging, steering lines, and most importantly – lightening the boat a ton (figuratively speaking). He's a weight fanatic and we spent the whole time while sailing the race asking “where's the hooty wacker (our word for everything and anything)?” And responding in unison by day 3 “Caleb said it was too heavy – so he took it off”. We won by 7 minutes over an 800-mile course so we are all happy he made us light. The alarm on the B & G's kept going off saying that the autopilot was not working and looking in the back of the boat it was obvious why “Caleb said it was too heavy – so he took it off”.
The rough schedule:
Get the boat towed down to L.A., rigged, sail the LAYC Whitney Series race around Catalina Island on March 5, dial in the boat, park it at Cabrillo Bay Marina, fly home to Portland, fly back with the Cabo crew, motor down to Newport Beach Yacht Club, start the race to Cabo March 19, finish the race, have someone drive the truck and trailer from L.A. to Cabo, de-commission the boat, load it on the trailer, haul it back to L.A. and leave her there for the Transpac race….phew!
The real schedule:
After Caleb finished with his chores and was off on the Pineapple Cup we loaded up the F350 Ford Diesel and the 5th wheel Triad Trailer and started off for L.A. My dad made the trip with me and asked prior to leaving – “isn't the weather really bad in L.A. right now?” I said how bad could it be – we're from the NW where it rains all the time. We decided to leave the boat upright as opposed to on the 55º angle because Oregon and California did not have major restrictions for hauling the over width load. We also did not get any indication that hauling it out of Cabo would be a problem. I don't know why we thought the road from Cabo to Tijuana would be like a good ole US highway. I think we should get into the GuinnessBook of World records for largest boat to travel from Cabo to Cali and something close to a Darwin Award for trying it.
The truck hauls the load very well. We picked a good time to do the trip since diesel is only $2.69 a gallon and we average about 7.5 mpg! On a 29 gallon tank we got to visit most of the truck stops in Oregon and California. “Note to self, pick up extra jerry cans for trip out of Mexico”. “Another note to self, find out why fuel is so expensive”. We made it half way to L.A. before stopping for the night and then on Sunday finished the trek down to Marina Del Rey around 6 p.m. It was raining – not like Oregon rain, more like Alaska rain! It was fun practically hydroplaning towing a 41' boat in L.A. traffic. I think I heard it rained 5 inches in 24 hours in many southern California areas. We decided to drop the boat over at Tom's brothers Stevedore yard, and come back a week later when the weather would be better for setting the keel. We flew home to where it was sunny and summer like. L.A. continued to get pounded by bad weather the rest of the week. I flew back down the following week and set the keel and rigged the boat between rainstorms. Caleb sent me an overnight package of million mile an hour tape from Florida to use on the spreader tips – light weight and awesome strong stuff! Instead of heavy spreader boots we used thin foam packing material and this tape which seems like something that would hold the space shuttle together. I think the tape is about $90 a role, small role. Pyewacket who was to do the Cabo race came into the yard with mast problems and had to pull the mast and send it back east. Gregg Hedrick, (Pyewacket's caregiver) introduced himself to me at Windward Yacht Center and said, “let me know if you need anything” – with 5 Pyewacket 40' shipping containers full of gear I was surprised I couldn't think of anything. “Hey Gregg how about a spinnaker and an autopilot”?
March 18th we head from Cabrillo Bay Marina in San Pedro to Newport Harbor Yacht Club. It was a great send off party at the club and we all felt great sporting our crew shirts – Joby decided on bowling shirts just to be different and break from the flowery Hawaiian shirts. Hats off to Newport Harbor Yacht Club for good food, lots of margaritas plus a Mariachi band to boot. Joby and I take a taxi the morning of the 19th all over Newport Beach in search of an SSB adapter and the makin's for a kelp stick. The driver made a smooth $60 making stops to Radio Shack, Home Depot and a marine store. While waiting for Radio Shack to open I darted across the street to a hair salon to try and get a buzz cut (I didn't want to deal with hair during the race) The two hairdressers looked at me like “queer eye for the straight guy” so I was glad they were not able to “do a walk in” – although one of them said he could work wonders on me… Yikes!
We had fun with Home Depot – Joby says to the guy “we need 10' of schedule 80 PVC, and 3' of tubing and a bunch of rope”. The guy asks “what is your application?” reply “You don't want to know” He thinks we are making a drain snake or something – it's amazing how they try to figure out what you are trying to do even when you tell them – “you don't want to know.”
We start the Cabo race by getting pinched out at the line and have to spin around. A bad start that puts us in 11th in fleet and 31st overall after the first roll call at 8:30am Sunday morning. Genuine Risk retires with canting keel problems and Merlin retires after dropping the mast soon after the start. We heard Alchemy was also taking on water after being holed. Hearing the trials and tribulations of other boats made for what sounded like was going to be a rough ride.
The winds picked up and stayed at a consistent 20-25 knots for a full day. We were doing up to 20 knots boat speed racing down waves and plowing into the waves in front of us. The sprit pole would get buried but the waves amazingly seldom made it back into the cockpit. We had a man stationed in a beanbag chair as far aft as we could manage – it was actually the best spot to sleep. The boat starts to get a harmonic keel hum at about 11 knots boat speed so sleeping below is difficult. Joby had to be put on Red Bull life support and energy bars because he seemed to be the only one that could keep the boat in a groove without wiping out. Mark Schrader would help keep Joby awake by reciting exciting tales of sailing around the world single-handed stopping in places like the Falklands the day after the war. We heard later from a crewmember on Medicine Man that they too had some wipeouts – one time when they hit a sunfish doing 18 knots. The sunfish stuck to their rudder and laid them over for what seemed like 15 minutes. They had to scrap the sunfish off with a boat hook. We heard many boats had a run in with sunfish. Thank god we didn't encounter any sunfish because 18 knots + sunfish would = no rudder! I did see a big turtle however no one on the boat believes me.
Monday morning and the second roll call had us at 7th in class and 16th overall. We had a 272-mile day and 11.3kt avg speed. We settled in for a nice run but went west of the rhumbline by quite a ways because we thought the wind would be better further out and would eventually clock (or figured we would get an early jump on Transpac). Lord knows we weren't afraid to jibe or were we?
We had a hand held GPS map that we used on deck that was very handy while discussing tactics with the crew. Too bad it didn't have a “tactics by fear” page that said “Jibe you chickens!” We blew out the 3A Spinnaker during a sail change and felt bad since it was new. Joby, who was in charge of chuckles, said “hey Tom what does your company SSI stand for?” Tom replies “Shredding Systems Inc.” Joby say's “not anymore now we are SSI, Shredding Spinnakers Instantly”.
The third roll call on Tuesday morning had us 3rd in class and 10th overall so it seemed that our tactics of pumping Joby full of Red Bull and Power Bars was paying off. Magnitude 80, Peligroso and Scout Spirit had all finished.
The cuisine on the boat was Mountain House brand Lasagna, Beef Stew and Rice and Chicken. Mountain House freeze dried is good, scratch that – great! We would mix it in a bucket and serve it cafeteria style. It was yummy, quick and “hey Caleb – light!” They even make deserts that also taste like real food.
We jibed one last time to lay the line to the finish and with winds around 15 –17 kts felt we would have a good strong run. On the horizon's we could see Bolt, a N/M 55, behind us and Adrenalin, a Santa Cruz 50, in front of us the whole day and knew we had to be on our toes to hold any kind of top 3 finish. We had reliable information that the winds shut off when the sun sets when approaching Cabo and about 1 hour after sunset the winds went from 17 to 5kts. We played around looking for Zephyrs and were able to keep the boat moving the whole time. We crept in close to shore and were able to pick up some wind. We thought that Adrenalin would have finished hours ahead but just as we were about to report our “1 hour out” position we heard Adrenalin report 1 hour out. We were barely holding the spinnaker and making the line that was a mark 500 yards off the beach. Adrenalin was bearing in on the opposite tack and we dropped the chute and crossed under main sail only 4 minutes behind them Tuesday night at 11:38 p.m.
We hit the docks and were immediately greeted by the NHYC welcoming committee around midnight where they handed us a case of beer. It only took about one to get us lubricated. We spent the next couple of hours sharing war stories with crew from Adrenaline and Bolt. Bolt came in 7 minutes shy of pushing us out of 1st.
Tom's family was somewhere in Cabo and we spent an hour looking for them up in the villa's. I thought since I saw the villa on the internet I would be able to pick it out at 3am after drinking beer on no sleep and little food. Luck held and we did find it – “good night Tom”.
The next day we washed up the boat and took Tom's sons and friend out for a sail. The winds were 20 kts and they all got turns at the helm searching for top speed. Bill gave the boys a crash course in sailing and they all seemed to enjoy getting totally drenched.
Bill also talked Joji, Tom's oldest son, into letting him cut Joji's hair off for a small fee. Bill and Mark spent about an hour scouring Cabo for a pair of scissors which must be a commodity in the area. We had fun watching Barber Bill turn Joji's hair, which was below is eyes, into a Kentucky waterfall or “business in the front, party in the back” mullet before proceeding with the final haircut. Brother Ollie and friend Ian had total looks of fear that they might be next – Ollie's price was too high and Ian was sporting nice curls so they were safe from Barber Bill.
We had Daniel (the delivery driver) fly from Portland to L.A. to pick up the truck and trailer to drive the peninsula to meet us in Cabo. He made it with little fan fare but I knew he was concerned because he said the trailer bounced all the way to Cabo - 1000 miles. He made the drive south in two days showing up on Wednesday night.
The next day, Thursday, we had the boat hauled and started the process of de-commissioning. It took all day to get the keel off, mast down and the boat packed onto the trailer. On Friday, we finished packing and had the boat ready to travel. Peregrine and Enzo, Hobie 33's were also trailering back to California. People that saw the size and width of our load assumed that we would drive to La Paz and then ferry over to Los Mochis. We told them that we were going to drive straight up the peninsula…..pause, hesitation……“that's not a good idea” they say or think. 10'8” wide on a 8' wide road with reckless trucks, 70 mph tour buses, cows and burrows and worst of all Toppes!(speed bumps). Everyone tried there best to scare the crap out of us and give worldly advice (some good, some dead wrong) – but it kept us on our toes.
We took off early Saturday morning leaving the Spring breakers and delivery skippers with there decks loaded with jerry cans of fuel for there motors home for the sweet bumpy road I dubbed Hellway 1. There was little traffic as it was Easter break and most people seemed to be at their destinations. The worst clearance issue for the boat started in the town of Todos Santos where I think we went into the city center. We acquired some minor scratches in the hull from tree branches. We stopped for lunch in Ciudad Insurgentes and met up with the two Hobie 33's. We lost track of them after Loreto as they seemed to be taking it all in and enjoying the sites. We pasted by the Hotel El Morrow with plenty of daylight so we kept trucking along. (It was recommended we stay there the first night – nice place – maybe next time.) Trucks and buses, when they saw us, would move way over - I think it helped having the "oversize load" sign on the front of the truck. There was literally no traffic and I don't think we saw more the 10 trucks and 7 buses the first day!
Daniel spoke such excellent Spanish that we were waived through 5 of the 6 military check points without being checked for anything. The one time we were searched was because of curiosity. I ended up giving the soldier some Power Bars and let him look through the binoculars with the built in compass.
We made it to somewhere around Las Flores between San Ignacio and Vizcaino and pulled over and slept for about 3- 4 hours. We found that at night trucks and buses could not see us as well and after a couple of near misses we decided it best to wait for daylight. Good advice not to travel at night. I notice at night that people had a code for telling you when there are livestock in or near the road. They flash the high beams once and then put on the emergency blinkers. We continued on now Sunday morning on better roads and still little traffic. We made it to Tijuana around 2 p.m.
We saw about 50 dead cows and 200 live ones within inches of the highway. There was about 30 live burrows (cute little guys) and 800 bazillion cactus. I counted 20 near misses with trucks or buses and 3 “change my shorts” near misses with trucks. I figured that there was an average of one grave marker every 20 miles along the side of the road usually on sharp, blind corners. There were beautiful beaches and friendly people in all of the towns. We stopped at a couple of local taquerias for home cooking that was great but a week later I started to pay for it. I was worried about fuel stops but was quite impressed with PEMEX the state run gas stations. They were well marked, easy to access and relatively clean. All in all beautiful country worth exploring.
The Federales pulled us over outside of Ensenada and gave us some grief for not having a permit to haul the over width load on a holiday. Daniel said they just wanted money and would have let us go quickly had we made a donation – as it was Daniel spent 20 minutes with them yelling back and forth. We played stupid and did not give them any money. Daniel said that he just offered to go back into the city and get the permit (which we don't think we needed). No problems getting through the toll booths on the express road from Ensenada to TJ - 6" on each side. I did screw up and end up going through the border in TJ. About 1" side to side clearance on that one. They just waived us through without asking a single question as we were holding up a lot of weekend traffic.
We hit L.A. around 8 p.m., picked up some more gear in San Pedro and then felt we would drive over the Grapevine to stop for the night. By the time we got over - Daniel had slept for many hours and we decided to keep driving on about 4 hour shifts. We made it home to Portland around 2 p.m. Monday.
It was snowing up around Mt. Shasta and the closest we came to danger was a car that spun out of control on the ice in front of us. We briefly went into a slide trying to avoid them but recovered. Go figure, we go 2000 miles with fears of losing it in Mexico only to have it almost happen at the end of the trip. I mentioned earlier that we were going to leave the boat in L.A. but brought her back to Portland instead to affect some modifications to the steering and rudder easier accomplished here.
What are we doing for fun now? Joby wants us to shred a 26' boat as a marketing ploy in one of our big shredders (we could), Mark is readying his Cal 40 for Transpac, Tom is getting his all Garnier crew ready for another run in Transpac, Joby and Bill are on another hate mission by doing Oregon Offshore in Bill's Soverel 33 (great boat, fun group of sailors and the destination, Victoria, is awesome) and Scott is laying low so his wife will grant him a future hall pass for another wacky sailing excursion.