Yesterday, we took off on OCC's Alaska Eagle from Cabo San Lucas to Newport Beach, CA on what is known as the Baja Bash. For the first 8 days, there was no bash but then....
The next morning, I woke at 0530 to the sound of halyards slapping. Oh oh, things were about to get sporty. The Baja Bash wasn’t letting go without a fight.
Turning the corner around Point Loma, the wind picked up and the seas grew choppy.
We brought up the # 3 genoa and with one reef in the mainsail, we actually started sailing. The seas grew throughout the day and as things turned to an E-ticket ride in the afternoon, no one had a free hand to capture the big waves on camera – which would have been undoubtedly disappointing anyway, as big seas never seem to make a good showing on film. By 1600, we had 35 knots of wind and 20-foot, breaking seas.
This was not what I had signed up for. Oh wait a minute, it was exactly what I had signed up for but it was just late in coming. At lunch, a giant wave came in through the center cockpit hatch, dousing all of us and lunch. So much for Saltines.
We soon found ourselves heaving to repeatedly to keep things on deck under control. Unlike most cruising boats, we carried heavy sausages of sails on the foredeck that kept snaking their way overboard each time the rail went underwater. On the second heave to, we went to the second reef in the main. On the third heave to, it was time for the genoa to come down. The joke was that the view hadn’t changed in two hours as we were making no headway.
It was time to get Eagle on her feet under double reefed main and staysail only. Five of us huddled on the foredeck, at times, not making contact with the deckl at all as we were tossed up and down 15 feet. These are the times you think about that harness you didn’t really check after last year’s season and you wonder (briefly) what it would be like to dangle over the side. Sure you’re attached to the boat, but you’re also a giant tea bag until someone hauls you back aboard.
Spray was everywhere and with the screaming wind, we couldn’t hear from one end of the boat to the other. Every other wave sent a cold rush of saltwater down my foulies – but hey, they’re breathable. I was barely breathing myself much less my clothes. My bruised knees were bounced along the anchor chain as we maneuvered the sail down with cold, numb hands. We stuffed the sail down the forward hatch, along with several gallons of sea water. It didn’t go willingly.
It was bright, sunny, windy as hell and completely crazy. Even the Navy off Camp Pendleton had stayed home. We heard a report on the VHF that someone was watching a vessel offshore struggling against the conditions. Chests puffed up. We’re not struggling, we’re just being challenged. We came busting into Dana Point harbor and applied the brakes just before hitting the jetty. The harbor patrol boat was tucked up in the calm water – it had no intention of sticking its nose out there.
Two red flags flapped wildly on the pole above us ashore – a gale. People on the docks cheered – apparently, we had had an audience for a while. I’ll never know what it’s like to come into port after winning a Whitbread, but I’ll take this as next best thing. So the Baja Bash didn’t happen in Baja. But it sure gave us a reason for the old adage, “Gentleman never sail to weather.”
This article first appeared in Latitudes & Attitudes magazine.