sailing homepage : trip reports : 2: baja-haha : day3: enroute, windy!

Nov 1, day 3: Enroute from San Diego to Turtle Bay, strong winds, big waves

Sean and Briana were up and awake for the second shift from 1-6AM. They maintained some radio and visual contact with Sausiego (who would play another role a few days later in our Baja Adventuring) as the wind built. They were in for a much more exciting shift this second night!

The able crew kept us on a broad reach, then gybed across to a beam reach - with the wind coming over the left hand side of the boat. That tack set us off on a tear, bashing across 6-8 foot seas in the pitch black darkness, both crew hooting with excitement. Sean didn't tell Briana that he had never quite sailed in such conditions before; it was probably best to keep her blissfully ignorant of the sharp learning curve being experienced!

The boat was hitting 8 knots on the fast beam tack, surfing sideways down waves, plowing through surface chop, and shooting off huge plumes of spray. There's a big difference between running before the wind at 7-8 knots and moving that fast while taking the wind across the side of the boat: the apparent wind is awesome, harmless spray turns into fiercely-propelled droplets, everything leans over until the rails are underwater, and the movement of the boat changes with position in the swell.

When the boat is down in a wave trough it's blanketed from the wind and things are temporarily calm. As the next swell rolls under us we start falling down the wave face, pick up tons of speed, and spray starts shooting out everywhere. As the wave passes and we're closer to the crest, the wind hits us full force, the boat leans over and accelerates even more! Just before the wave passes, we're rocketing along, totally leaned over, with water everywhere. It's crazy!

Luckily the wind temporarily calmed, since neither bearing off or reefing the mainsail were palatable options with only one experienced crewmember on deck. Wanderlust is a little slow to get going in lights winds, she is absolutely in her element in heavier winds!

With the short reprieve, the dynamic duo turned to run with the wind, gybed the jib across, and set the pole to keep the sail full. Once more heading straight downwind, Sean and Briana were able to relax as the boat movement returned to the familiar wing-on-wing action. Although the motion was calmer, when the wind picked back up we started howling down the front of waves, reaching a recorded top speed of 9.3 knots! In the darkness, with phosphorescence streaming around us, 50 miles offshore in the Pacific. Yihawww!

Briana and Sean in the middle of a crazy night


Will wriggling into foulies

Around 4AM the wind started to die, by the time Will and Sara took over at 6AM it was much calmer and more reasonable. They wouldn't believe the tales of night terror before checking the instrument-recorded max speed! The sun rose slowly; only the occasional huge roller reminded them of the craziness they slept through.

Weather calming around sunrise


Gentle waves

As the morning developed, the wind picked back up and the waves quickly increased again. By 8AM we were enjoying large waves - 10 to 12 feet - and a steady 20 knots of wind straight on our tail. Our wing-on-wing setup was working perfectly, and taking us right down the rhumbline.

Hidden by a passing roller


Awesome wing-on-wing action

We noticed up ahead another Haha participant, "Kind of Blue", on a similar point of sail. We caught up with them quickly - they were carrying a reefed main and partially-furled headsail - and we both took pictures of each otherís boats! How cool to pass by someone else so closely, given the vast expanse of ocean between our origin and destination.

Religious postcard view of Kind of Blue


Nice looking boat!

The morning watch was fun and easy; Will increased the autopilot rudder gain and found Otto's sweet spot for steering. With the wind and waves steady from one direction and the autopilot moving at the right speed, we weren't really sailing the boat, we were just laying around as she sailed herself.

Wing on wing downwind


Sara hypnotised by the big waves

Sean and Briana reappeared at 11AM and again shared stories of the wild night. It can be hard to believe when 8+ knots downwind doesn't disturb your senses or interrupt your reading! It's easier to swallow when you think about how hard it would be to head upwind in such conditions.

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The winds and waves had mellowed a bit. We all had a great day together, occasionally tending to the sails, but mostly just lazing about reading. Our vacation felt like it was truly kicking in.

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Relaxing on the bow, watching the breakers roll by


The sound is unreal

Starboard side


Port side

After three days at sea, we were starting to close in on the finish line. We all strategized on how to arrive by sun-up without needing to approach the harbour in the dark. There was even some talk of slowing the boat down! Apparently the early-morning lulls in the wind hadn't yet established a pattern in our tiny brains. We would get the message the next morning though!

As the sun lowered and finally set, Will and Sean checked out the course and current wind direction to see if we could straight-shot between two islands to save on some distance, and do so without tacking. Nope. We jibed the main over and reached off to get some distance up towards the pass between the islands.

Sara and Briana decided to go below in the reasonably benign seas to cook some chicken fajitas. As the girls were slaving away on dinner, Sean and Will spotted some whales about 0.5km off our starboard bow, coming up for air and blowing. The girls charged up to see the whales - evident only by small plumes on the horizon - and all were impressed by the show.

The girls quickly retreated to their meal in progress, leaving the boys wondering where the whales went. Sean helmed the boat in the general direction of the blow spouts, aiming to keep them about 200 meters off the starboard beam. Will was up on the bowsprit to try to spot the distant plumes.

Will had just given up and was retreating to the cockpit when Sean yelled 'WHOA!!!'. A gray whale had surfaced about 10 feet off the starboard beam, and fired off a huge plume of spray. The part of the whale above water was about as big as the boat; much of it was submerged, we didn't see the head or tail. The thing was huge.

Briana and Sara ran up out of the cabin just in time to see another whale surface immediately beside the boat - less than five feet away - and then dive under us. It surfaced again so close to the bow that it couldn't be seen from the helm. Everyone was oohing and ahhing except Will, who was shouting orders to don lifejackets, to clip in, to put the helm hard to port.

Another whale surfaced directly behind us - about 90 feet back - and dove. It was an amazing experience. Will, having recently read about a 45-ft crewed transpac boat that was rammed and sunk by a whale off Hawaii two months prior, was freaked out. The others were much more awe-struck, and it wasn't until 15 minutes later that Will was able to calm down and enjoy reliving the experience with everyone.

The ecstatic crew enjoyed a wonderful meal of chicken and black bean fajitas, eaten in the cockpit with the last vestiges of light. Life at sea can be real nice. As we gybed back onto a course that would take us straight downwind between the two islands, Briana suddenly exclaimed: 'Um, should we try not to hit that boat?' and pointed towards the port bow.

There was a medium sized sloop-rigged sailboat crossing about 75 feet in front of us. No one had seen it previously. I guess we just weren't expecting anything else to be out there! We hadn't seen it when scouring the horizon for whales - we have no idea where it came from!

It had all kinds of odd lights on it - they seemed to have a much 'foggier' glow than other navigation lights we've seen - and it was creepily absent of the typical navigation lights. We all remember four or five foggy red lights, both on the port and starboard sides of the boat. It seemed to have nobody at the helm, and we universally agreed that it was a ghost ship. Spooky stuff.

Will decided to wuss out early, leaving Sean and the girls to take us safely between the islands; he noted some dangerous rocks located 'somewhere ahead' before yawning and heading below. He immediately reappeared and said "Oh, don't follow the course I plotted either, it takes us through an island". Navigational uncertainty notwithstanding, Sean and the girls managed to bring us around the islands and onto a course that would take us directly to the finish line.

All looked good as the evening shift handed over to the night shift - Will - who would have an easy time bringing Wanderlust across the finish line.