For the last 10 days or so, we’ve been taking a walk every morning to the Police Dock in San Diego, where at this time of year you find all kinds of sailing stories. That’s because lots of cruisers are still coming north from Mexico on their Baja Bashes, and they’ve got endless stories not just on the Bash, but on their season south of the border. The Baja Bash — the 750-mile upwind trip from Cabo to San Diego — can be a nasty one. If you don’t get a weather break, it can mean an upwind slog in 15 to 25 knots of wind and troublesome seas. And unlike the fall, when cruisers head south along the coast of Baja, the Pacific Coast of Baja is cold in the spring and early summer.
In late May, Craig Shaw of the Portland-based Columbia 43 Adios was about to begin a singlehanded Bash. A rigger and fine sailor, Shaw knows his stuff. But when Howard, Craig’s 82-year old father, learned of Craig’s plans, he signed himself on as crew. It wasn’t as though Howard needed to be told about the boat — he owned it for many years before he sold it to his son. And on the way from San Francisco to Portland for the start of the ‘88 Pacific Cup, Howard and crew got blasted by 60 knots winds at the Oregon-California border. “We hit 17 knots," he remembers. “We managed to get the main down, which we needed to do because it was the original main and we had to have it for the Hawaii race. Nonetheless, with the anemometer pegged at 48 knots, we sailed at a sustained 12 knots under a low-hoist 130 genoa. I locked my wife, grandson and other crew down below — it’s the only time I’ve done that — and another guy and I stayed out in the cockpit, taking turns sleeping on the cockpit sole. The blow lasted almost to Bodega Bay, where we pulled in and I got the best night’s sleep ever.” After doing the Pacific Cup, Howard and his wife spent six months living on Adios in Hawaii. The following June, with son Craig and a 747 pilot along as crew, Howard sailed the boat back to Portland. “Early June was a little too early to leave,” laughs Craig, “because we really got hit. With sustained winds of nearly 50 knots, we were doing nearly 15 knots with just a small headsail.” But those rough bits didn’t put Howard or Craig off sailing. In fact, Howard sold Craig the Columbia 43 so he could buy the Hunter 54 Camelot, a faster downwind boat, to do another Pacific Cup.
Howard is in fine shape mentally and physically, no doubt in a large part because he stays so active. In addition to sailing, he golfs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and plays tennis on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Anyway, Craig and Howard left Cabo for San Diego on May 31, Howard’s 82nd birthday. As Bashes go, they didn’t have a particularly bad one. In fact, they arrived in San Diego only 6.5 days later, and that was without pressing. “The Bash made dad think about bringing his own boat down in the Ha-Ha this fall,” says Craig. “Why not?” laughs Howard. “I really enjoyed myself on this trip, and when I came down to join Craig for the Banderas Bay Regatta. Besides, I just put a new engine in the Hunter.” As for Craig, he’ll be doing the Ha-Ha again for sure. Who knows, maybe they’ll be the first father-son team to each enter their own boat.
You might expect that everyone at the Police Dock would be coming north in June, what with hurricane season having started in Mexico, but that’s not the case. For example, while strolling around, we bumped into Richard and Laura Boren of the Port San Luis-based Pearson 365 Third Day. Vets of the ’08 and ’09 Ha-Ha’s, they were about to head back down to Mexico — but with a new-to-them boat. "The Pearson 365 has been a terrific cruising boat for us," Richard explains. "But for our last year in Mexico, we wanted a bigger boat, so we bought a Hudson 52 ketch." His wife Laura adds, "Our two boys weren’t very happy because they loved the old boat, but they instantly changed their minds when they saw that they were each going to get their own cabin."
Richard says that after two years of cruising in Mexico and sailing between California and Mexico, he’s become much wiser. "Before we did our first Ha-Ha, we thought we had to replace everything old on the boat with new stuff, even if the old stuff was still working. We also thought that we had to replace it before we crossed the border. Now we know that old stuff that works is as good as most new stuff, plus you don’t have to install the new stuff. And as long as the boat is in good basic working condition, you can put off projects until you get down to Mexico, where you’ll have more time to do them. We’re sailing down to Mazatlan to offload the stuff from our old boat onto our new boat, then we’re headed up to the Sea for another summer. After one more year in Mexico, we’ll probably sail back and become liveaboards in Morro Bay." It’s not something the kids are going to like. "They love cruising and aren’t going to want to come back," sighs Laura. The one thing she won’t miss about cruising is home schooling the kids. "Everyone who home schools will tell you that it’s not easy."
As we mentioned earlier, it’s hurricane season in Mexico. Indeed, there are currently two hurricanes, a Category 4 and a Category 3. Celia, which was a Category 5 with sustained gusts to 160 knots — in other words, an extremely powerful hurricane — is way out at sea. Just as good, she should fizzle long before she approaches the Singhlehanded TransPac fleet. Consequently, her only effect should be good waves for surfers. As for Darby, she’s a typical early-season hurricane in the Eastern Pacific, meaning that it began to form off Central America and is expected to fizzle offshore fairly quickly. While hurricanes are nothing to trifle with, thanks to much-improved weather forecasting, if careful and patient, most cruisers can work around them.