Ensenada to Bahia Santa Maria and a Birthday at Sea
Marina Coral was a warm welcome into Mexico, but at the price of $150USD/night not even their hot tub could convince us to stay any longer. We left quickly after our boy “Franky” escorted Chris to immigration and back for a few final signatures. In his absence I did our laundry, vacuumed, dusted, restowed our things and took out the trash all while soaking up the feeling of solid ground. With Chris back home and our TIP officially sorted out, we carefully backed out of the slip to give Kessel all the turning radius necessary to clear the fairway with her bowsprit. It was Tuesday, February 7th 2023 at 13:00 with our course set for Bahia Magdelena, or as the cruisers call it “Mag Bay”, with Turtle Bay as a plan B.
Although we had initially planned to make more stops along the coast of Baja, there was bad weather on our tails and we had plans to rendezvous with Chris’s family on the mainland who had brought us boat parts. Not to mention, the water and air temperatures were still cold in comparison to the Sea of Cortez and mainland Mexico so we were eager to thaw out in the tropics. Kessel was along for the ride, planning to join us in the villa that the Neely family rented in Chacala – the thought of a seaside infinity pool and uninterrupted hot water showers was enough to convince them to join.
Kessel’s tanbark sails decorated the sky behind us as both boats screamed out of Bahía de Todos Santos with sustained 20 knots blowing into 27. Avocet showed a hull speed of 9, which was extremely unexpected since the forecast alluded to a whole day of motoring. We were beyond thrilled to have the wind, and with a reef in our main we settled in for our first night passage of the week.
Around 17:30 the sea started to lie down just as did the wind did, but I hoped I could give Chris another hour of sleep before needing his help rigging our spinnaker. Cleo joined me for snuggles in the cockpit, slightly uneasy on her paws, but eventually curled up on the side of my legs. The shoreline was painted in hues of pinks as the orange sun sank behind the infinite blue horizon. Kessel had closed the gap on the distance between us, sailing five miles out parallel to us. Peter and I chatted on the radio as the sun melted into the sea, replacing the sky with speckles of starlight. That’s when things started to get bumpy.
At the end of my watch it was midnight, and despite being exhausted I had never fought so hard to sleep in my life. The swell was six feet every ten to fourteen seconds but the sails – my god the SAILS and the racket they made was inescapable. Chris was constantly trimming and the mainsheet above our berth was loud above me. For some reason, the creaking inside the boat had intensified and although I tried to drown out the sounds by playing white noise it didn’t work. I laid awake staring at our cabin top for four hours until Chris tapped me in for my watch.
First Full Day at Sea – February 8th
The moon glistened over the now-quiet waters leaving me a bit jaded that Chris got to retire during the calm. When we swapped watches I promised I would stay up for as long as I could as I was dangerously nearing 24 hours without sleeping. Although I was hoping to watch Netflix to keep me awake, our Starlink was once again unreliable, which was a blessing in disguise. Being alone with my thoughts wasn’t all bad; I had bursts of insomnia induced creativity that I took to a page and used to write out my blogs and articles (including the one you are reading now!)
I was just getting on a roll with writing when Cleo snuggled into my lap. Trapped and bound by “cat law” (if a cat sits on you, you cannot move) I reached for our tablet to check our Navionics chart; 502 nautical miles to go. Even with Cleo on my lap I could see over the cabin top and around the dodger for my horizon scan… which is when I saw lights. Close lights. I couldn’t tell if they were northbound or southbound since (yet again) they were not displaying the proper light array but fortunately after closer investigation I concluded it was northbound, and not an issue. As soon as Chris relieved me from watch, the wind died. He fought to keep the wind in our headsail, resulting in the constant sound of the winch directly above me, depriving me of sleep. Again. I couldn’t find my AirPods to drown out the noise so there I laid, awake. Eventually, Chris lost the battle with the wind and turned the engine on. The low, steady rumble of our Perkins has always worked as a siren song to lure me into a deep unbothered sleep. I was out within minutes.
It was like I blinked and four hours went by. “Your turn” Chris said, the silhouette of his body towered over me. “It’s cold, layer up” was the last thing he said before crashing face first into our pillows besides Cleo. The glow of the rising sun began to warm the eastern horizon while to the west the moon still stood high and in the sky. Avocet Avocet Avocet, Kessel Olivia’s voice came over the cockpit repeater. I couldn’t see Kessel with the naked eye but thanks to technology I could see on Navionics that they were 20 nm offshore from us, on a “side quest,” if you will. We chatted about our watches and I warned her that there was a big ship in the distance that would be crossing our bow and heading their way soon. It looked like it was towing, so I reminded her to keep an eye out in the water for anything that may have broken loose. “Sounds good, stay hydrated” she said, a good reminder and a much needed one at that.
The day was full of card games, writing, and enjoying the view we had fought so hard to see. Chris and I switched on and off between naps and snack making while I tried to get work done for my business, but Starlink would drop every 15 minutes for an hour at a time. Knowing the pattern, I made sure I had a game plan to get the necessary work DONE in those 15 minutes. It was stressful for sure, but it beat the hell out of sitting in an office.
At 16:00 we were making 5.5 knots over ground, leaving Kessel in our wake. Cleo, who had been below deck for about 24 hours, was forced to make a presence outside for some fresh air. She stretched and gave us the side eye before curling up in her bed. Another day had come and gone (thankfully) without much action to write about. At 24:00 we jybed over, then Chris retired below deck and I took watch. It was another night full of star gazing, chatting with Peter and listening to podcasts.
I found that the hardest part of our newfound sleep schedule was the eating patterns I was developing – my stomach hates waking up early and gets upset after long naps, so to remedy the issue I ate a whole sleeve of saltines at the beginning of each watch. We were 75 miles offshore, but I was craving “Pizza?” Chris asked. Our diet at sea was very sad and I was missing the influence of our nutritionist friend and galley chef Quincey as we day dreamed of the meals we had shared together. I was surviving off my midnight saltines, lunchtime ramen and a few carrots or grapes as in between snacks. I honestly thought that I would have more opportunities to cook while underway, but the sea state and my energy levels betrayed me. My body was pissed, and once I had a moment to prepare a proper meal I would but for now, frozen pizza sounded amazing.
It was the first time Chris and I really spent time with each other in days. Although we were confined to a small space, one of us was always napping when the other was awake, leaving only moments to discuss weather and our current course. Before we left California we stocked up on six frozen pizzas, one of which I had just pulled out of the oven. We set up our laptop outside to watch a movie and eat dinner together, the sun setting behind us. It was a great way to spend Chris’s last day being younger than me.
Chris’s 25th birthday would be different than all the rest – not only was he celebrating his quarter of life and his frontal lobe completing its development but it would be his first birthday at sea, and I know there is nowhere else he would rather be. After five years of rigorous boat work, scheming, and dreaming we had made it. We were doing what we set out to do and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than by enjoying a beautiful downwind sail along the Baja coastline.
The stars that night were incredible. I put down my phone that I was writing this very blog post on to just bathe in the magnificence of our universe. A sky of stars and sea of sparkles as the phosphorescence glistened in our wake. No squid jumped aboard like they did on Kessel, but plenty of sealife made an appearance to keep me entertained. The glow of land in the distance warmed the horizon to our port while the sea continued infinitely off our starboard. “PETER ARE YOU SEEING THIS?!” I exclaimed over the radio, all etiquette went out the door when I saw nothing but fire on the horizon. “Oh, yah, you have been missing the moon rise. Isn’t it magical?” he responded nonchalantly – how could Chris forget to mention this phenomenon? The glow of the moon was so hot you would think it was a ball of fire like the sun; I had never seen a sunrise that could compare.
Chris’s Birthday – Feb 10th
Somewhere around 3:00 am Chris turned on the engine to add some stabilization in the otherwise lumpy sea state. He had woken me up at 4:30 to take over, and after wishing him a happy birthday I took my place beneath the dodger, and he took my spot in bed.
The warm glow of a new day stretched across the horizon. I was grateful to have witnessed both the moon and sunrise at sea, but truth be told I was getting eager to touch land once more. My body was stiff with minimal movement, a reminder to stretch more as I was only days away from turning an age older myself. Last year I wrote a blog piece titled “25 lessons learned in 25 years” to commemorate my 25th birthday and had challenged Chris to do the same. I skimmed through the notes on our tablet to see he was 10 lessons away from finishing. Luckily, he did, and you can read that here.
The sky was full of small puffy clouds in the shape of fish scales, but no strings of mare’s tails yet which would be the promise of more wind. We were only making 2 knots, bobbing uncomfortably along in the swell until we taped our Perkins in to keep us at a steady 5 knot pace and make some hot water and top off our batteries – as it turns out, Starlink is a big energy sucker. It also stopped working for most of the day, which was not ideal for this working girl.
When the sea state finally mellowed out enough to be below deck, Chris assessed the stack of dishes in the sink. He was washing, then called for me to join him. He took my hand and ran it under the salt water faucet. Warm. The water was WARM! We were nearly 100 miles offshore and our temperature gauge showed that the water we sailed upon was 76 degrees (fahrenheit) – almost 20 degrees warmer than the average temperature in Ventura. Another reminder we were not in California anymore.
A birthday at sea is a special occasion so for dinner I made Chris his favorite pasta with a single birthday candle lit in the middle. Unfortunately the breeze blew it out for him, but it was fitting since fair winds was his only wish. While we enjoyed dinner I had cookies baking in the oven. I had purchased them in secret when doing our last provision trip, hiding them deep in our freezer until this special day. When I brought the warm, gooey cookies out to the cockpit Chris’s eyes lit up and a smile stretched across his face. We cuddled as the sun set and reflected on our journey this far. I entered a single note into my phone: had it really only been two weeks since we left Morro Bay? It felt like a year ago… but time moves differently on the water. Everything blends together as you find a new routine that coincides with the sun rise and set. We exist around the clock, no set bed times or work schedules – as fluid as the sea is herself.
Birthday boy chose to take the first off watch but I didn’t mind – I preferred staying up later anyways since there’s a better chance I’ll fall asleep quicker. A Carnival cruise liner popped up behind us, unmistakable with its iconic “fin” lit up on their top decks. Although we seemingly stayed with the floating city for a while, she left us in her wake. A warm breeze wrapped around my face, my foul weather gear in a pile by the companion way. It was finally warm enough to not need layers, but a simple blanket and lap cat would do. Peter and I kept each other company over the VHF nerding out over the stars, using the starwalk app to identify constellations and discuss wanting to learn more about celestial navigation. After all, now we had nothing but time.
Anchor Down in Bahia Santa Maria – February 11th
They say it takes three full days for your body to get into the rhythm of being at sea, but for me it took about four. I had just gotten used to our watch schedules, waking up before Chris had to wake me, stomaching full meals, and settling into the little nests I had created around the boat for comfort on and off watch. I had a routine that was rooted in fluidity. This was our longest passage yet, and although we were happy to be doing it, I was so ready to touch sand.
The engine had been on for nearly 24 hours – the wind teasing us with its breeze. I entered a single line in my notes that makes me laugh now that I read it: Engine sleeps > sailing sleeps. It was true, with the engine on and humming I could fall into a deep sleep in comparison to trying to sleep while under sail. Chris woke up around 6:30, right as I put cinnamon rolls in the oven. I had been chatting with Olivia over the radio which was a treat since, due to our opposing watch schedules, I hadn’t heard her voice in days and it was nice to catch up.
The sun poked through the mackerel-scaled skies as the unmolested jagged beauty of Bahía Santa Maria could be seen by the naked eye. Although it had been warm throughout our passage, the sun was hidden behind overcast. This was the first time we felt the sun’s rays on our skin since leaving Ensenada, and basked in all its warmth. Soon we found ourselves navigating into the massive Bahia Santa Maria, setting our hook in 25’ of water with 4:1 scope, behind a mountain that served as a wind shadow. It was the first time our hook has touched the sea bed since Morro Bay, reminding ourselves that we still owe it a beer for all it went through there.
The water was so still, it was hard to believe we were truly at anchor. We used to think our friend Baron was crazy for saying that Santa Cruz Island had no good anchorages in comparison to Mexico… and then we understood why. A baby gray whale cruised through the bay, coming up for air every 15 minutes or so getting closer and closer to Avocet each time. The biggest birds I have ever seen circled overhead, their wingspan and shape similar to pterodactyls. I grabbed my bird book and identified them as magnificent frigates, my first introduction to a bird we would see a lot of throughout our time in Mexico.
Finally in a state of peace, we started cleaning and putting the boat away since things always shift when on a passage. I was starving for something nutrient dense so made what I call “Anchor Down Bowls” which included black and jasmine rice, quinoa, red lentils, red cabbage, romaine lettuce, sweet potato, orange bell pepper, yellow squash, black beans, feta, avocado and some salsa to top it off. We devoured it all in seconds.
Chris sent up the drone to capture our surroundings from a birds eye view before we both took a nap while waiting for Kessel to arrive. Cleo cuddled between us, purring loudly as a sign she was just as content as we were. Avocet Avocet Avocet, Kessel came over the radio, waking us both up from our hour long nap – our friends were close! The sun had set but the Kessel crew passed by Avocet around 19:00, even through the darkness I could make out the whites of their teeth as they smiled ear to ear. They laid anchor near us and we all promised to get together in the morning – if only we knew what chaos the following day would bring.
Although I wanted to fit our entire transit into one single blog post, the details of the following days took up an entire two pages alone. The misadventures of Kessel and Avocet are far from over and come to a peak in the next post so, as always, stay tuned!
Marissa (and Chris and Cleo)