Here is one way to start the New Year. Take a little journey with me from La Paz, Baja California Sur, to Mazatlan, across the Sea of Cortez, aboard the gallant ship Hajime. She’s a Tartan 38, built in 1978, and old and tough as anything on the water. Jim, who prefers the title pilot, and I, with the title navigator, are the crew.
We left La Paz the morning of December 31, 2019. We had been watching for a weather window, because the north winds that flow down the Sea of Cortez are not friendly at this time of year — it’s not the winds so much as it is the waves. They like to stack up at five to seven feet with a five-second period. But it seemed like a good bet, and the next weather window was at the very end of the 10-day forecast period. We set out, but perhaps we should have heeded the omens. We were raising anchor, and found ourselves fouled on this gem of an old fisherman anchor, delaying our departure by half an hour or so while we horsed around with it.
My weather gribs, which we had pulled an hour before our departure, showed a south flow of wind along the mainland coast until close to 2 a.m. January 2, a mini-system spinning around a pressure blob in the middle of the Sea, and my considered opinion was that I didn’t want to be in it. Jim and I agreed to turn right and do our southing there in the middle. We hit a flat calm. I expected the system to move itself up the Sea and blow out before dawn, when we would be arriving in Mazatlan. I hadn’t really expected the thunderheads laced with lightning that were popping up here and there, but they mostly seemed north of our route. Sure enough, the wind and waves freshened from the west, and we shifted course toward our goal. We were moving along at sundown when we heard a mayday.
Now, I had no desire to deal with this. Jim had no desire to deal with this. My mind was already in Mazatlan, where I was promising myself all sorts of earthly delights — massage, dinner at Angelina’s Kitchen, all the things that would motivate me to keep my chin up in sketchy weather and an uncertain passage. We would be in Mazatlan at sunrise.
But there was a mayday, and we heard it, so we answered. The call was from a boat called Green Dragon 2, which was taking on water. They were 24 or so miles north of us, which is at the outside edge of normal radio transmission. There were lightning storms up there. I could see them. Damn it, I hate the idea of lightning when I’m on the boat. But we turned north with the wind now coming out of the west and the seas getting rowdier, and continued to call for the Mexican Navy, relaying for the boat in distress. Ominously, no one responded. There was complete radio silence.
We used our Garmin InReach to text my brother Alex to call the US Coast Guard. This is, by the way, one of the most frustrating modes of communication it has ever been my experience to deal with. It’s supposed to be linked by Bluetooth to my phone, but that connection is not really clean. Jim wound up having to do most of it, and had to do it using the InReach device itself, which has no keyboard, only an alphabet panel and a directional pointer, which is hard to use properly when the boat is moving in all directions at once.
The CG told us that they had received the EPIRB alert from Green Dragon 2 and alerted the Mexican Navy. At this point, communications screwed up. They said that the Mexican Navy had dispatched a unit, causing us to heave a sigh of relief. But we kept going because Mazatlan was 70 miles south of us, and that’s a long way off in water time. Even a fast boat only does 20 knots. How long does it take a boat to sink?
We kept hoping for backup. Green Dragon 2 reported water rising to the level of the batteries. Jim and I exchanged worried glances. How in creation were we going to find a dark boat in the middle of this stormy night? We were running radar, but hadn’t picked up a blip from them yet. Worse, we hadn’t picked up a navy ship on either radar or AIS. If we’d had a hand free, we would have tried to make that query through the recalcitrant InReach, but the boat was taking heavy seas on the port side, and we had all we could do to hang on and keep moving.
Readers — This was the first installment in a three-part series from Jessica Lockfeld about the rescue of the crew of Green Dragon 2. We’ll bring you part 2 on Monday.