The Baja Ha-Ha 2011

Part II
Q. What is a Baja Ha-Ha?
A.  An Amazing Regatta/Race

This is the second of a two-part sea story – the 2011 Baja Ha-Ha cruisers regatta

while reading the narrative below you may click on any thumbnail image to enlarge it
if you just want to view the story in a slide show, click on the picture below and turn up your speakers

Baja Ha-Ha race start

Since there is probably nothing like it in the reader’s experience, let me introduce you to the Baja Ha-Ha XVIII 2011 Cruisers Rally. It was founded in 1994 by the magazine Latitude 38, headquartered in Mill Valley, CA It is a two-week cruisers rally from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas, a 700 mile usually downwind sail to Mexico that takes place during the annual snowbird migration from the cold Pacific Northwest to the tropical Mexican waters. I would shortly learn that it is in its 18th consecutive year, with 176 sailing yacht entries this year. You can learn more by browsing Latitude 38 Richard Spindler, publisher/executive editor, affectionately addressed as The Grand Poobah, manages the event along with the Managing Editor Andy Turpin and staff. But it is so much more than an event; it is a record-breaking floating party; it is exceptional sailing; it is a supportive community; and it is an experience worthy of inclusion in your bucket list.

If you’ve read Part I of this article you know John and I sailed from San Francisco to San Diego in time for the start of the Baha Ha-Ha cruising regatta.  We fortuitously met Dennis Reschke on the dock in San Diego, and we took the opportunity to add him as a third member on board Arctic Tern III.

(click on any picture to enlarge it) 

John (at the helm)  & Dennis

John (at the helm) & Dennis

Dennis is an affable man in his 60s, and he seemed to be a good fit. He had owned several boats and had done a great deal of small boat sailing on lakes. We felt he would add to our safety and make for a less exhausting watch schedule.

But we were to learn that boat ownership and lake racing do not necessarily qualify you for the skills required or conditions met during offshore racing. Noticeably absent was his ability to steer by the ship’s compass. Additionally although he always spoke with authority, some of his judgments showed lack of experience.

This led to unpredictable seamanship. One night while John and I were below there was a violent crack and shudder. We had an accidental jibe in 20 knot winds. It turned out that the preventer parted, but fortunately there was no other damage to the gear.

With that “crack and shudder” I learned that the most dangerous crew member, however well intended,  is the one who has a tendency to cover up any lack of knowledge or experience and who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

Initially Dennis was struggling to adapt and fit in. And while I didn’t check I can guess it wasn’t easy for him. To his credit he tried hard to do things right. And in the intervening days and nights the gaps in his experience diminished and his value increased. It took only one day to like Dennis; it took several days to become comfortable trusting his seamanship.

Monday October 24: Dan Diego – Race day – Leg I

Baja Ha-Ha start1

Baja Ha-Ha rolling start

One hundred seventy six sailboats converged at the mouth of San Diego harbor at 11 am for the start of the first leg of the race, 360 nautical miles from San Diego to Turtle Bay. Eager mariners showed up, but the wind didn’t – precipitating a rolling start.    What is a rolling start?
To avoid the outcome of bobbing like corks and getting nowhere and disrupting the entire schedule, The Grand Poobah has the sole authority to declare a rolling start. The fleet rolls over the starting line on its southbound course while motor-sailing, and we continue “rolling” along at the declared “legal” speed of 6 knots, until the wind builds enough to sail.

the largest pod of dolphins we've ever seenSuddenly the water is frothing with literally hundreds of dolphins crossing the fleet’s path.
We have never seen anything like this, and we gawk and stare and speak with the excitement of a kid with a new birthday toy.

Since the wind never built to 10 knots the rolling start continued the whole day and through the night. At this rate my projections show we’ll run out of fuel just as we reach Turtle Bay. Fortunately help was on the way.

Spinnaker set and flyingSpinnakers flyingRally organizers and all 176 entries pray for wind, and it comes at 11 am on the second day – and finally The Grand Poobah can declare a bona-fide sailing start,  The race is underway and spinnakers pop up like spring flowers.

Prepare with the Best and Handle the Rest:

John has all along been following the philosophy of the Pacific Puddle: “prepare with the best and handle the rest.” He has been buying and collecting various items from Alaska to San Diego, and at this point Arctic Tern III is a floating warehouse of used boat stuff. Our inventory of backup and repair items, from tape to tools, are squirreled away in every locker. We have no EPIRB, but we do have a strobe light on the Type IV PFD to launch, should a person go overboard at night. We’re unsure about impellers and filters. They may be on board but not easily found.  He purchased a used drogue chute at Minney’s Yacht Surplus store in Costa Mesa (Newport Beach), and 300 feet of all chain rode one hour before the race departure in San Diego. We have a Satellite phone, and we have a life raft on deck, but well beyond its serrvice date. For some reason we have an oak seacock plug in the spoon drawer. I guess it’s handy if you need to stop a leak, and in the meantime it serves as a stirrer for the Top Ramon. In summary, both gear and seamanship are a floating work in progress, albeit at this moment somewhat chaotic. But it is truly a shakedown cruise, and every day brings progress, from book or conversation or experience.

Perhaps we are most glaringly deficient in two areas:

(1) paper charts.
We have a Raymarine series E chartplotter – but without the benefit of soundings and detail provided by the chip. And we have a small scale chart covering Alaska to South America that yields no detail. Additionally we carry a 10-year old publication of Mexico harbors. And we have miscellaneous information (notably the lat longs of the three finishing lines, gleaned from the Baha Ha-Ha literature). And we are unsure whether the depth gauge reads from the hull or from the bottom of the keel.  In my opinion the lack of paper charts is a serious omission, but truth be told we manage to successfully navigate the entire trip without error or incident.

(2) Spinnaker pole
I need to remember that this is a “shakedown” cruise. The sail inventory on Arctic Tern III includes a symmetrical spinnaker and we have a whisker pole not a spin pole) on the deck. After trying in vain to fly the spin without a pole John lands on an experiemnt.  He decides to jury rig the whisker pole and put it in service as a spinnaker pole.

Spin pole bending under pressure

Spin pole bending under pressure

On Tuesday October 25 we awake to a beautifully clear morning with 10-12 knots of wind going our way. Spinnakers begin to pop up everywhere on nearby boats.  About 8 am we get our spin rigged correctly and flying on the first try. Around 12:15 the end fitting on the light whisker pole parts, rendering it useless. We try in vain to fly the spin without a pole and then decide to sail a broad reach with the main and the genoa while we make repairs. For the first time we are sailing fast in the wrong direction. This becomes a familiar exercise, as we break and repair the pole several times during the voyage. Dennis distinguishes himself as a master-pole-meister. His stock grows exponentially with his ability to jury-rig the pole and thus keep our spin flying.

I believe that John will purchase a proper spin pole along the way. Whether he will continue to save money by not purchasing paper charts is a more troubling question.

Thursday October 27 San Diego to Turtle Bay — Latitude 27.5° N

Turtle Bay google map

Turtle Bay (Bahia Tortugas)

At 0500 hours we drop anchor in Turtle Bay, Mexico (Bahia Tortugas is the formal but less common name). We have successfully completed the first leg of the race, having come 347 nautical miles from San Diego in 58 hours, the longest leg of the race. We toast our arrival with a glass of wine and go to bed without a defined wake up time. But my body is well trained in watches and informs me that I can sleep no more than two hours at a time.

Morning coffeeMorning swimA morning swim follows morning coffee.  We have arrived in paradise.

Friday October 28 Turtle Bay (continued)

Turtle Bay Beach Panorama

Turtle Bay Beach Panorama

Every day is such a new day that it feels like a  time warp with no continuity. How absolutely incongruous it is to see a hundred or more masts at anchor in this remote and barren fishing village.

Today’s world is organized around a giant beach party. A well-stocked beer stand, hot meals, a live band with an amplifier, tents, lawn chairs, a volley ball net, and surf boards appear from nowhere – seemingly instantly set up with the ease of raising an umbrella. Turtle Bay surrenders to an army of sailors arriving via dinghies in shorts and T-shirts – a raucous  yet peaceful version of Victory At Sea.

Turtle Bay beach partyTurtle Bay beach hikingColor the party mood FUN: beer drinking, swapping stories, beach hiking, swimming and playing volleyball… with or without T-shirts. How the cold and profound loneliness of the 2 to 6 am sailing shift contrasts with the brightness, warmth and today’s grand decadence!

Catamaran "Younger Girl" aground"Younger Girl" agroundThe catamaran, “Younger Girl”, has anchored too close to the beach and the ebbing tide has put her firmly aground.  Perhaps her desire for bragging rights for the best beach-side spot  dominated prudence.  Perhaps the revelers think she is a beached whale, and a Herculian effort to free her develops.  It is fun team sport, although unsuccessful. She paid for bragging rights in inconvenience and embarrassment, but no damage.   She floated off the next morning, presumably being better grounded in the fundamentals of tides and seamanship.

Turtle Bay baseball gameTurtle Bay baseball standsThe centerpiece of the afternoon is the baseball game at the local school stadium, with its unique set of rules created and changed at will by The Grand Pooba. Since there is no visible scoreboard or scorekeeping, an observer might ask; “how do you know the score?” It becomes evident that this is not a game of competition. The purpose of this event is for everyone – locals and sailors alike – to play – and to enjoy — irrespective of age or talent or color.  The Grand Pooba spontaneously changes the game rules on number or strikes, on safe and out, or distance from the pitcher to home plate, etc. so that everyone always wins! And no one ever hollars “foul” when he does! What if our American culture was based on the principle that we alter the rules so that no one protests because everyone always wins?  Now that’s a foreign concept!

For now no one gives thought beyond the beer and lime, and baseball.     We return to our “home” and are treated to yet another mesmerizing sunset.  All this frivolity and beauty will is short-lived. – snuffed out by the Leg II start at 1000 hours tomorrow.Turtle Bay sunset

It’s a myth that sailboats are quiet. Thankfully they lack the thumping sound and the noxious smell of diesel engines. However if you sit quietly and listen you can count a myriad of noises – regularly six to eight – rattles, and clankings, and snappings and lappings and moanings. The mast gathers these noises and sends them amplified below. The hull is one giant resonator passing vibrations from stem to stern. It’s like living inside the sound box of a violin.  As the wind increases to 15 knots a continuous moaning begins. With a practiced ear you can tell the wind speed from below deck by the pitch and intensity of the sound. And when the sea state pitches the boat the bow comes down with a thunderous shuttering crash making sleep impossible for all but the exhausted. We are wrapped in the natural sounds of a thousand years of sailing heritage, and it seems to us to be “quiet”.

The Turtle Bay experience

My body has decided that this is the latitude at which T-shirts and shorts are comfortable wearing apparel. We live in harmony with nature, without a need for heating or socks. The trade winds are our air conditioning. Here dogs lie motionless in a patch of shadow with one eye open waiting for the midday hours to pass. Flies are so lethargic that one swat does them in. Dolphins and pelicans and seagulls thrive in large numbers along the shore, and the sea is rich with fish.

Turtle Bay sea and landThere are only two colors: the colbolt blue sea and the parched brown earth. A sharp thin line separates the blue below the horizon from the variegated browns rising sharply upward.  The irony is that the sea supports abundant life underwater; the air supports abundant birds; but the land is inhospitable to humans. Only a few twigs and a sparse human population can survive here. It is a barren landscape… perhaps worthy of a single visit, but not homesteading.

Turtle Bay main street

I walk this village end to end in fifteen slow minutes. Dust falls on cars and houses on each side of a single lane dirt street. There is no pavement or sidewalks or traffic lights. Houses are plywood sheets or of the more durable cinder blocks. Even the house on the crest of the choice hill is low and modest.

Turtle Bay fish processing plant in ruinsTurtle Bay fuel dock

A rusted out skeleton of a fish processing plant stands as a monument to a failed business enterprise.  Only the fuel dock and the local bars are doing a brisk business.

Turtle Bay Catholic Church

Turtle Bay skyline & church

Only the church stands tall and miraculously dust-free.

What can the locals be thinking when our locust swarm of plastic boats descends upon them? The Baja Ha-Ha armada provides this community with 30% of their annual income — in two days!

Our lifestyles contrast like the blue and the brown. We appear so different it hardly seems we are of the same species! Do the residents assume that all Americans live such a lavish, carefree life or that we live like this every day? Do they like us or not? Or are they nonplussed by our arrival and departure – more accepting than judging? Whose is the happier culture? Our fleet is after all a traveling cultural isolate. The two cultures smile at each other today, but we do not tarry long enough to discover a deeper understanding of one another.

Captain my captain

Visible chinks in my captain’s armor are appearing. I am troubled by too much experiential learning. “Learning by doing” is laudable except when it migrates to “learning from breaking.’” Here is our inventory of broken ‘learnings”. We have dragged anchor and incurred a violent accidental jibe (both with minimum damage). We have burned out an inverter by plugging a 1200 watt hair dryer into a 500 watt unit, and repeatedly broken a whisker pole using it as a spinnaker pole.
John climbing up on the mastJohn has had to climb the mast several times.  And we somehow can’t seem to get to the race starting line on time. Had it not been for the threat of dying in the wilderness I might have abandoned this ship.

Sailing has a way of unmasking flaws not seen in normal circumstances. My captain has two styles (1) a calm, considerate, thoughtful and engaging “home” style and (2) a hyper-active, crazed “back-up” style. The problem is he leads from his back up style.  He’s bouncing from helm to foredeck like a pinball shouting our departure orders in his micro-managing staccato style. , with a blatantly incorrect assumption that there is no competency on board and no one will do anything without instruction. At least that’s how it seems to me before my first morning cup of coffee. For the first time I’m speculating to myself whether my captain’s numerous good qualities of talent, strength of body and mind,  focus and commitment outweigh his impulsive, headstrong do-it-yourself predisposition. Sail a short time with someone and you will notice it’s an imperfect world populated by imperfect people.

Saturday October 29 Turtle Bay to Bahia Santa Maria — Latitude 24.5° N

We are up at 7 am for a 9 am start at the harbor entrance. We are late and begin near the end of the pack. It is our second leg – 240 nautical miles. Soon we have the spin flying in a 6 knot wind and boat speed occasionally hits 3 knots.

On Sunday, October 30 we are somewhere south of Latitude 26 N. We’ve had no need to change course or sail set since 10 am yesterday. The light breeze has been constant in direction and velocity. Moreover everyone in the fleet, near shore or off shore, is in the same wind.

It’s now Monday, October 31 at 0600 hours, and I’m just getting off my watch. I’m dog tired from sailing through the night. At first light I glance at my GPS; we have 138 nm to go to our next rest at Bahia Santa Maria. In these light winds we will get there…. I am too tired to finish a calculation. Why do we punish ourselves willfully choosing discomfort and sleep deprivation? What do we prove to ourselves? Does it somehow make us stronger? Is this the pound of pluck… in the SDYC’s motto? I am too tired to contemplate such heavy questions at this time; my sole focus is to lie down before I fall asleep standing.

The afternoon “dawns” (my schedule) beautifully, and I awake to everything we have dreamed of: temperature 85 degrees F, bright sun, calm seas and 5k wind gently rocking the boat in our direction. The water temperature is 85 F. The autopilot has the helm, and the sailing is effortless. There is not another soul in view on the 360 degree line between sea and air.

We spot one turtle and the word quickly spreads about the sighting. We never lose our child-like glee with seeing marine life in the wild. Turtles bob lazily on the surface with no interest in going anywhere. They float so high it is easy to mistake them for a half-deflated helium balloon. (We have seen too many helium balloons on the water, and John leads the charge to change our culture to include an awareness that what goes up must come down — as trash).

DennisHowardDennis and I sit shirtless on the bow dangling our feet overboard, and fall into telling personal stories… the kind which usually end with “…and I haven’t ever told anyone that” or “…I haven’t told that story in a long time”. It is good therapy and it brings us closer together.

Team trust and understanding increase after heartfelt stories are shared!
These are among the happiest of times; we are complete, and it’s heaven on earth.

Monday October 31 offshore (continued)

It’s 0600 hours and I just got off my last night watch for now. We have 35 miles to go to the finish line of leg 2. We’ve sailed for 2 days and 2 nights on the course thumb line of 120 degrees M. In these light breezes we can sustain 4 knots with the spinnaker flying.. with the aid of our shortened and taped whisker pole.

Dennis continues to be unpredictable and sometimes less than professional on his watch. He has changed course to 140-150 degrees of his own volition to sail faster, but we are on a course almost perpendicular to the finish line. Occasionally he resets the traveler or climbs forward to the mast without consulting with anyone. Additionally he insists on employing the autopilot for his entire watch and spends long periods away from the helm unconcerned with responsibilities as a lookout. My several soft verbal nudges indicate that he has his mind made up and is not coachable on these matters — a flaw that I hope is not fatal for any of us.

After crossing the finish line of this leg, a combination of bad technique and impulsive leadership grabs us, and we have one of the ugliest spinnaker take-downs in my memory. After considerable struggle with controlling the boat and sail we get the beast untangled from the hull and out of the water without ripping it to threads. Once again I have short-lived feelings of “I want to get off this boat”. But we anchor smoothly and the extraordinary beauty of this even-more-remote harbor captivates me.

Anchor lights at sunsetTwo hours and a beer later my attitude is “no harm no foul”, and I am fully engaged in the evening surreal scene of over 100 anchor lights dotting the landscape looking like stars fallen to the horizon. I’ve never seen anything like it!!

Tuesday November 01 The Bahia Santa Maria Experience

(remember:  you can click on any picture to enlarge it) 

PangaI awake to the gift of leisurely coffee, followed by several repair tasks to correct yesterday’s errors. Then the three of us hail a “panga” (small local fishing boat) more easily than a New York cab and are transported to the beach. Prices are either U.S. one or two dollars per ride, unless of course you are the very last to leave the beach party, in which case you might have to pay a premium. Panga drivers have caught the entrepreneurial spirit!  But note that our driver (in the green stripped shirt) drives no hands and is not concerned about getting a DUI.

Bahia Santa Maria Beach PanoramaBahia Santa Maria is even more remote than Turtle Bay.

Bahia Santa Maria beachBahia Santa Maria homeFor the second time a grand beach party appears in nowhere and from nowhere – this time complete with a professional band that has driven 160 road miles from La Paz to play this gig. They play for tips, and I think they did well. Beer is $3.00 each, and a $15.00 local fish and rice dinner completes the fare. I choose a long walk – first hiking up a near hill for an incredible vista and then dropping down to seabed level to a beach that stretches to infinity. I walk barefoot at water’s edge, sometimes in solitude and sometimes chatting with other beachcombers, until late in the day.

A panga shuttles us back to Arctic Tern III where we enjoy another magnificent sunset, wine and easy conversation in paradise. Once again, for several hours I can not imagine life being more pleasant. Then it is early to bed in preparation for tomorrow’s 0700 departure on the final 180 nautical mile leg of this adventure.

Wednesday Nov. 02 Bahia Santa Maria to Cabo San Lucas Latitude 22.5° N

Learning a lot every day

We arise at 0600 and manage once again to be late to the starting line. That’s 3 times late in 3 starts. The Captain is in his back up style, shouting micro-orders with an occasional misstatement that Dennis and I countermand. We cross the starting line and promptly raise and foul the spinnaker. We have to douse it and completely re-rig and re-set it. An hour later we are successful, but we are even further back in the fleet.

The morning passes and things begin to calm down and stabilize. We have somehow evolved a mystifying racing style: eg. When it’s your turn on the helm you can set your own sailing course. Thus we zig-zag along with no more racing strategy than to go in the general direction of the finish line. The convoluted thinking, and lack of aligned strategy, combined with this strange leadership style that allows the least experienced person to call the shots, is sandpaper on my brain. I search for something productive to say, but can find nothing.

This situation was at its worst on the final leg when with two votes outnumbering my one, John made a decision to sail offshore to the layline. On leg two a yacht submitted their time en route with the following comment: “we sailed to the International Date Line and then had to motor to the finish”. It was a losing strategy for that boat, yet we persist in employing it. So we sail 60 miles off shore and incur an estimated 8 to 12 hours extra sailing time to the finish line. I’m consoled when we get a lucky wind shift and complete our final leg barely in time to avoid a DNF (did not finish).

I’m reminded of something I learned about victim and personal accountability a long time ago:  if I don’t like my circumstances I either (1) change my circumstances or (2) transform my attitude.  Both are improving.  Our teamwork is better … and we are now capable of de-anchoring, sail handling, and performing similar team tasks smoothly.  More importantly I’ve improved my ability to let go of my judgments and coach very lightly.  I resolved an internal conflict between the demands of a race and a shakedown cruise, and this is not a race.  And although there is no direct discussion on the topic, I feel that my adjustments are making things better for everyone.

By the time we reach the dock I’ve disappeared my frustration and once again I’m living in heaven on earth.  Dockside Customs clearanceDockside Customs clearance supplemented with showers, laundry and leisurely conversation with neighboring boats and the purest air in the hemisphere return my attitude to good fortune and happiness.

We’ve put on about 900 water miles this trip.  It has never looked the same.  Snapshots of the sea flash  through my brain, and I’ve never tired of staring at the moods and scintillation of the sea.
I’m grateful for it all.

the seaSunset at sea

Thursday November 03: Arrival at Cabo San Lucas – Latitude 22.5°N

Cabo San Lucas harbor

Cabo San Lucas shoreline

Cabo San Lucas “beehives”

Literally the crowded condos on the shores look like bee hives.  We’ve arrived at a new world and Cabo San Lucas is a beehive of vacation activity.

The Cabo day has three distinct phases; they are as regular and predictable as the tides.

Cabo San LucasCabo FishingCabo Fishing: The first is in full swing at sunrise: with the fishing activity. Fishing contests are big business and the power mega-yachts are on the hunt for a trophy prize and the $1 million prize money. Their engines start at sunrise.

Cabo TourismCabo TourismCabo Tourism: daylight hours are apportioned among a myriad of play activities from para-sailing or SCUBA diving; to off-road Jeep rides and window-shopping. Every product from diamonds to trinkets comes into view while walking the streets. The men sell cigars (and discretely whisper “do you want some weed?) while the women sell their crafts of native dolls and trinkets.

Cabo VegasCabo VegasCabo Vegas: Cabo San Lucas is a Mexican Las Vegas. The hours when Cabo literally shines the brightest are from 9 pm to sunrise. The night is transformed into neon, glitzy and loud. It’s disco and drinking until dawn.

On this our final evening together I take John and Dennis to dinner at Squid Roe. The fresh salad, a drink or two and pork ribs are refreshing and delicious. We don’t have the will or stamina for an all-nighter, but the transformation into an all night disco is well underway when we abandon the restaurant.

Cabo at sunrise

Cabo at sunriseAround sunrise the streets get swept and the policemen change shifts and Cabo resets for another day.

Saturday November 05

Morning dawns as another day in paradise, and we have our last breakfast together. Whether in war or in peace there is a deep brotherhood in coming through the eye of the storm together. We had lived together long enough to unconsciously absorb each other’s language and thought patterns. We can hear each other’s voices in conversation in our minds’ use each other’s speech patterns, come closer in thought and actions, compensate for each other’s weaknesses and appreciate each other’s strengths. We have been each other’s teachers and students and have come to trust each other in conversation and seamanship. That we were all more skilled individually and as a team is beyond doubt. We began as separate entities, each with a unique set of skills, mindset and foibles. By the finish John, Howard and Dennis and Arctic Tern III had become a single force.

Cabo breakfastAt breakfast olive branches were exchanged, and we approached feelings at their edges. John genuinely expressed his thanks and appreciation and we all took turns with closing thoughts, sensing that we would never pass this way again. Perspective was changing as boat rash was healing. There was more to say, and a lot left unsaid. No one would risk “I love you, man”. It was felt but left on the floor of the tiki bar.

What does it all mean?

We took a mythic journey together. We entered an unfamiliar, sometimes hostile environment, met and slayed the sea dragons, found new resources withino urselves and advanced our skills and knowledge. Each of us would shortly be returning to the place where we began, perhaps to see in new ways, to show up with renewed purpose, or simply to fashion a new story for entertainment at the dinner table.

DennisDennis: Training in surviving corporate life is not the best training for responding to the rigors of the sea. But to his credit he learned, adapted, and distinguished himself as our jury-rig-meister and solid friend. He did the best he knew how, and finished well.

HowardHoward – Me? Like Dorothy in the Wizzard of Oz, I awoke one morning in a far-away land I didn’t know existed. I don’t have the wisdom to see myself as others do so my comments are brief.  At age 73 I had to beg off on the heavy lifting, and I appreciate John for covering my back. My mind is strong but the body is weakening; I don’t have many more of these trips in me. I am returning to my world enriched by the experience and committed to be a better sailing instructor, and a better “grandpa”. I’ll leave it to others to judge my success.

JohnJohn: He will continue to acquire knowledge and equipment to support his unwavering goal of solo circumnavigation. I appreciate him for inviting me along, for covering my weaknesses without complaint and patiently listening to a few of my outbursts. I honor him for the introspection required to noticeably improve his leadership style. He has the right stuff” but “the right stuff” differs with the circumstances and environment. Will his many positive qualities of physical and mental strength, wit, charm and resourcefulness carry him successfully through his Pacific voyage next Spring?

To excerpt a few more lines from notes from the Latitude 38 articles on the Pacific Puddle Jump: Although most passage-makers in this year’s Pacific Puddle Jump rally rated their crossing to French Polynesia as easier than expected, every offshore sailor gets occasional reminders that merely a few minutes of inattention or bad luck can lead to a ‘game-ending’ disaster.

And on the same page: South Pacific anchorages – such as this one in the Marquesas – are some of the most idyllic on the planet. But it only takes one mistake to turn a dream trip into a nightmare.

Will l the threads of impulsive decisions, headstrong actions and belief in his omniscience lead him to a ‘game-ending disaster” on some distant reef?  Will his driven style, combined with lapses in preparation and judgment, and fatigue, play out to a successful circumnavigation or to his demise? Exactly the same scenario: (a confluence of factors including equipment failure, unfamiliar territory, weather, stress, navigation miscalculation and sleep deprivation) can produce either a positive learning experience or a catastrophic outcome.

Perhaps any analytic assessment is pointless.  John will continue undaunted, and in the end Lady Luck will cast the deciding vote.

Almost exactly one year later…

on November 11, 2012 I received the following email from John:

Howard, Thanks for writing.  I am Cape Town, South Africa, making some repairs.  I had to wait in Mauritius for one month in order to receive new shrouds from the States.  I broke 2 out of 3 on one side crossing the Indian Ocean. The South African coast was very hard because of the currents, changing weather, and strong winds and big seas.  I will head across the Atlantic in about two weeks.  Enjoy,  John

Putting the period on the story:

Most sailing articles focus on the physical drama of a voyage. The larger truth is that sailing offers up the widest possible range of emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual challenges. We had our moments of “heaven on earth” and of “hell on earth. We chose to sidestep most rough moments – either out of wisdom or out of lack of social skills — and to capture the bliss. It doesn’t take long for the rough rough spots to dissolve, while the sounds of laughter remain, and perspective shifts to make everything right.

Dennis_Howard_JohnI don’t know if we’ll sail together again, or not, but we travel in each other’s minds. Sailing technology has advanced but human nature hasn’t changed much since Confucius observed:

“By three methods we may learn wisdom:

  • First, by reflection, which is noblest;
  • Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and
  • Third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

Howard Edson is a sailing instructor, charter and delivery captain,  writer,  photographer and old salt, living in the Seattle area.  Please obtain permission before you reproduce these thoughts or images.  Contact him at


14 Responses to The Baja Ha-Ha 2011

  1. Allen Shenk says:

    Howard…..Really fine story, well-told, with great photos. Even w/o the blog, I knew you’d finish OK. You always do. Compared with the Marblehead-to-Halifax, this was longer, but…. Sounds like Arctic Tern III is very seaworthy (no tales of disassembling the engine…). Spinnaker pole was an equipage issue, not a fixed-gear problem. Re: age/strength–I’m with you….back here, still cleaning up after the Oct 29 storm which brought down trees and limbs. Can’t do heavy work 6-8 hours anymore… but still doing it.

    What about Tigertown next June?

    Fair winds……..


  2. Howard: Thanks for sharing this experience. Very informative and v. instructive, also. You’re a good writer, sensitive photographer, and gentle teacher, my friend.

  3. Gus Philpott says:

    Fascinating. Thanks for shariing your adventure, Howard. Excellent writing and great photographs!

  4. JR Lazar (and Ron Rose) says:

    Nicely done, Howard.

  5. amy kuhl says:

    I am in awe
    beautifully told tale
    so happy to hear of and from you howard
    you inspire and teach and entertain
    via your word, thought and images
    thank you again & again
    amy (& brian & girls)

  6. Howard: Great pics and engaging story telling. Very enjoyable. Curious…. How did you all get back to your departure towns?

    • Hi Pat:
      Dennis flew from Cabo to San Diego, where he met a friend with a RANS 2-seater homebuilt aircraft who gave him an air lift back to San Francisco.
      John met his girlfriend in Cabo and they sailed to LaPaz for 10 days and then flew back to Germany for the winter. John will return in February and prepare for the Pacific Puddle Jump (Pacific crossing from Mexico to French Polynesia), with hopes of continuing on to Australia and complete a solo circumnavigation.
      I flew to Denver to hang out with my son Mark for a week and then flew to Seattle. I subsequently heard that I could have stayed on a boat in Baja all winter, or captained a rally boat on a northbound trip to its home port. As I look out the window at drizzle and 40 degrees F., I am not at all certain that I’ve made good choices.

  7. Thanks Howard. Well, as you’ve said many times….. “the adventure continues…..” Happy Holidays and say Hello to your boys from me.

  8. Jennifer says:

    Fun story to read! We need to make it into a book for the boys to have!! Thanks for sharing.

  9. Great read Howard. Glad you survived the event. Can’t wait for DD 2012. I hope you can still be enticed to helm for us. We would all love to hear more stories.

  10. Dennis Reschke says:

    I really enjoyed your account of our Baja Haha adventure. You are an excellent writer and story teller, thank you for sharing. I learned much, you were a good teacher, and I agree that I wasn’t always the best student, but I think we had a pretty good time overall. I do believe that you have many more trips and adventures at sea still left in you. I also look back on a wonderful experience that I will cherish forever, and although we had a few CDA (Cheated Death Again) moments, they were invigorating and memorable. All in all, you and John were excellent and capable sailing partners and I will always appreciate our time together in Mexico.
    May good luck and fair winds be in your future!

    Dennis Reschke

  11. John Parker says:

    What a treat to find your blog this evening. I was researching the present location of Arctic Tern III. It was a delight to have it presented in such an eloquent and astute manner!! When last I saw Arctic Tern III, she was in Bellingham. Shortly before, John G. had singlehanded her down from Valdez without benefit of an operating auxiliary. After an Iditarod and an ascent of Denali, I think your description of “pluck” best describes his definition of success. I hope that he can find another “geezer” scribe of your qualification and literacy for his next adventure.

    Fair Winds, Young Man
    John Parker

    • Your comments and good coffee this morning… worth getting up for. You make the effort I put into the writing rewarding. I’ll be thinking about John crossing the Pacific Puddle.

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