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Baja-Haha Part 3: Bahia Santa Maria to San Jose del Cabo

To read the previous entry, Baja-Haha Part 2: Bahia Tortugas to Bahia Santa Maria, CLICK HERE.

Day 8 - Monday, November 11th - Bahia Santa Maria: I woke up tired. I was excited to get my feet on land and explore a new location, yet I was also in need of catching up on a few night’s sleep. During the wee hours of the morning, the guys had anchored at Bahia Santa Maria as I tried to get some sleep below. Even though one of them could have gone to sleep as well, the guys all stayed up listening to some drama on the radio that was keeping them at the edge of their seats. Another Baja-Haha boat thought they were being chased down by pirates, as most of the other boats listened to the play by play over the radio for hours. The boat sent out an alert over the radio once they realized a panga of locals had been following them for an extended period of time. It was weird enough to see a panga out in open ocean, tens of miles from land in the middle of the night. The men in the panga had been trying to contact the ‘Haha boat, but since no one on the boat spoke Spanish the language barrier was creating an issue. Other Baja-Haha boats tried to interpret what the boat told them the men in the panga were saying, but there was still a lot of confusion. At first the ‘Haha fleet thought the boat was being paranoid, but after an hour went by of them being followed by the panga they too started to believe it could be some sort of pirate situation. Tim, Tom, and my dad sat at the edge of their seats for hours, as did the other boats listening in. “I think they could be nefarious,” someone said over the radio in a serious tone.

Nefarious - I like that word,” said Tom. After a while, someone successfully translated the message the “pirates” were trying to get across. The Baja-Haha boat had blown right through the men’s fishing nets, causing around $200 in damage. They wanted the boat to pay up. These fishing nets were something we had all been trying to avoid while sailing Mexico, but I don’t think anyone was expecting to have to dodge them in the middle of the ocean in total darkness. Either way though, the fishermen didn’t have a lot of money and this was their livelihood. What the boat had failed to inform the fleet over the four or five hours that this was going on, was that they had remembered barreling through the fishing nets the whole time. Information that could have been helpful in the beginning. The boat agreed to pay the fishermen, and that was the end of the nefarious pirate takeover of Baja-Haha 2019. Words of the day became a reoccurrence for us on Good Times, as well as creating or reciting malaphors (the blending of idioms) in our free time to describe certain situations. We often used “we’ll burn that bridge when we get to it,” “until the cows freeze over,” “you’ve opened this can of worms, now lie in it,” etc. Eventually we decided on an entire slogan for Good Times, which was “didn’t you learn anything from yesterday.” This morning’s word of the day was nefarious.

I sipped my coffee in the sun while stretching out while Tim and Tom swam around the anchored boat. A local man in a panga came by to take trash in exchange for a few bucks, and we asked him if he would come back in a few hours and we could pay him to take us around the mangroves. The bay had a few strands of empty beaches that sat under a small range of towering desert mountains. There was no town, except for a seasonal fishing village consisting of a few shacks. The shacks were far into the mangroves, which were difficult to explore in a boat, dinghy, or even panga due to the water in the mangroves being maybe a foot deep during low tide. You also had to maneuver through crashing waves to get in or out. The Baja-Haha Grand Poobah told everyone not to attempt it at all in your dinghy, and instead to call a panga if you need to go to shore since the locals actually knew how to do these maneuvers. Too many people had gotten hurt during previous sails, especially after drinking all day at the boater’s party. This party would be happening the next day.

Photo by Tom Luneau

Soon enough two local men came back in the panga to give us a tour. The men were seasonal fisherman and the one who was driving the panga spoke English very well. We joked with him a lot and Tom kept saying things both in English and Spanish to make him laugh. He pointed out the village and explained to us how they fished for mako sharks. There were two other men from the Baja-Haha group who came on the mangrove tour with us as well. We went slow, as here and there our panga captain had to lift the engine up because the water was so shallow we were skimming the bottom. In front of the mangroves was a stretch of beach littered in large sand dollars, and behind the mangroves were sparkling white dunes of sand. I was looking forward to exploring these areas once I was able to. We popped open cans of beer while in the panga and then the captain hit the gas, flying us up to and then over a swell of waves at high speed.

The rest of the day and evening was spent drinking beer on the boat. A few days prior at the restaurant in Bahia Tortuga, Tom asked the woman running the restaurant if there was anything fun to do coming up at Turtle Bay, and she mentioned a cumbia night (which we were not able to make). Tim and I explained what cumbia music was to Tom, and told him we would play him some once we got service. Well it was sunset on the boat and somehow we had service, so we barbequed fish and my Tofurky Ham (which I ate in slices with hot sauce and rice in a corn tortilla) to an online cumbia playlist. Tom was all into it. From there on out, Tom would ask any local musicians we came across to play cumbia. After plenty of beer and cumbia, a dinghy rode by and waved hi, trying to introduce themselves from afar. They were from the boat Mykonos. Tom instantly waved them over, offering drinks on our boat. The man, his wife, and another crew member of theirs named Yosh hung out with us for a bit, sipping on drinks, until the couple decided to dinghy back to their boat, and Yosh decided to swim back, just for fun. Tom joined her and they each did a few laps back and forth between the two boats until Yosh took off after getting rubbed on by a fish. The sun went down, and we were all exhausted from alcohol and sunshine, except for Tom who wanted to keep the party going. He got on the radio and called our old friends Catherine E to come over for a bottle of wine. At first the rest of us thought it was a bad idea, since we were so tired, but listening to crazy stories some of the crew had to share was a great way to end the day.

Day 9 - Tuesday, November 12th - Bahia Santa Maria:

Tim and Tom left the next morning around sunrise, catching a panga to land to hike a nearby mountain while I caught up on sleep. My dad and I spent the morning drinking coffee and packing our day bags to go to shore once the guys returned. I was excited to walk the beach for the first time, and maybe even get close to the sand dunes and mangroves. I loaded a dry-bag with a towel, small floaty, sunscreen, water, snacks, my camera, and a sweatshirt. The party would be starting that afternoon, so I put together everything I would need to go straight there once it was time. When the guys got back to the boat, Tom decided to stay and relax before the party as Tim, my dad, and I grabbed our things and headed to shore. We debated for some time about whether to take the Poobah’s advice of trusting the locals to get us in and out of the tide, or attempting to do so ourselves in the dinghy. After watching the locals come in and out of the waves, my dad decided he was confident enough on trying to attempt their maneuvers. The dinghy motor had been acting up a bit after being left tilted sideways for too long, so soon enough it was sputtering as we slowly motored through the other boats and toward shore on the other side of the waves. We quickly realized the gas can had been left on the boat, and we had no idea how much gas the dinghy had. The plan was to motor up to the waves, stop and wait to time them, and then surf the dinghy into shore while pulling the key to deactivate the motor as we rode in. To do this we would all have to jump off and swim alongside the dinghy as well, which is why we would have to shut off the propeller. Worst case scenario the propeller could cut one of us or the dingy would topple over us in a wave. We sat timing the waves until we were confident to gun it through them, that is, if the dinghy didn’t run out of gas on the way in. I sat right in front, half hanging off the edge as we powered through. This way I could be the first to jump as the guys pulled the dinghy through the waves. We surfed a wave in, I was told to jump, the engine was shut off, and the guys pulled the dinghy to shore just as planned. Except we accidentally took ourselves to a sand bar instead of the actual beach. A saltwater lagoon lay between the two, where the fishermen would set traps for sharks. The three of us pulled the dinghy through the lagoon, past large sand dollars and colorful crabs displaying their claws.

With the dinghy parked on shore, we took off down the strand of beach to explore. The mangroves and dunes were a bit too far to walk to, especially since the sand between us and them was muddy and your feet would posthole into it as if it was deep snow. We walked past what looked like a beached gray fish, just under two feet long. We walked up to inspect it and noticed it was a dead baby hammerhead shark! I would have loved to see a live one. Although maybe not swim with it. After walking a ways, we turned back to move the dinghy towards the party which would be up on a hill overlooking the shore. I was watching the water of the lagoon beside us quickly move in the direction we were walking, like a wide, shallow river. I took out my floaty and decided I would float back to the dinghy. I sat the tiny little tube, meant for a small child, in the shallow water then plopped my butt right into the center. At that moment something large scuttled out from under my butt and swam away. It startled me, but at least it was gone. I’m not sure if it was a flat fish or a ray.

I took off downstream and soon I was floating in the center of the wide lagoon. A few other boaters who were walking the beach laughed and waved, and one of them yelled to me “make sure you shuffle for rays if you touch the bottom!” The water was so shallow I was touching bottom every couple of seconds. It then dawned on me what exactly I was doing. I was letting the current take me wherever it decided to, through a secluded lagoon used strictly for trapping sharks, floating past a dead hammerhead, while lifting my butt up high so it wouldn’t drag across a stingray. Did I regret my decision? No. But I did have an eerie feeling following me as I went. Only my butt was in the water, so I just had to hope nothing would take a bite between then and reaching shore. I jumped out a few yards early, walking the rest of the way with my dad and Tim and helping them drag the dinghy to another beach. Boaters were showing up to the beach mostly by panga, but a few had also come in their own dinghies. A dirt path led up the small hill to a flat area overlooking the bay, the lagoon, and the mangroves. Large shade tents were set up over a cover band’s instruments, a dirt dance floor, and an area where locals were selling cold bottles of beer. There were a few small buildings used by seasonal fishermen. Closed up empty bunkhouses, two bathrooms, and a small kitchen selling plates of fish, beans, and rice. We grabbed beers and explored through the crowds of boaters, taking in the scenery of the ocean and the high desert hills with brush and cacti. We reconnected with Catherine E, Mykonos, Absolute, and the man we referred to as Dirty Don since he kept trying to talk to women by drawing portraits of them. A drunken man tried to pole dance on one of the shade tent legs and somehow didn’t fall over. After a few hours of enjoying the beer, sun, and music, we decided to return to the boat before the sun started to set.

My dad had already taken a panga back to the boat, so it was up to Tom, Tim and I to maneuver the dinghy through the crashing waves. This was going to be much trickier than coming in. The local fishermen sat on their pangas watching us as we pulled the dinghy into the water and walked it toward the surf. These men had high powered engines that they would quickly rev up to speed and fly up and over the waves like a speedboat after timing them just right. We were about to attempt the same thing in a dinky dinghy whose engine sputtered on and off from time to time, and possibly didn’t have gas. We stood in the water holding onto the dinghy discussing our plan of action, as onlookers of both fishermen and Baja-Haha-ers watched curiously. We definitely had a full audience. Our plan was to time the waves, run alongside the running dinghy while Tom lightly hit the gas just to boost it through the tide. Right before the water got too deep we would jump in – me, then Tom, then Tim – and gun it at full speed (which was not fast) up and over an oncoming wave and then drive off into the sunset as everyone on the hill cheered. Worst case scenario we would lose control or be pummeled by waves with a running dinghy toppling over us. Or it would run out of gas and roll backwards over us in the waves.

A big wave was crashing ahead so it was our time to go, in order to catch the calmness before the next one hit. “Bridget, jump in!” they yelled. I threw my leg over one side and climbed in as fast as I could and held on. The inside of my thigh was stinging but I ignored it, focusing solely on the wave in front of us. Tom jumped in to better drive the boat then Tim. We hit the gas, flying right toward an approaching wave. The little motor powered through as hard as it could, and we rammed right into the wave as it crashed, soaking us. I held on laughing, since the situation was a bit messy but we made it without getting tossed. Then came another wave crashing on us again. We weren’t expecting a second wave to come immediately after the first one, but we all laughed as we rode off safely, although wet. Somehow, we had a harder time finding our boat than making it over the waves, but we made it back without running out of gas. I checked to see why my inner thigh was burning and a red and blue blood-blistered bruise sat where I had pulled myself into the dinghy right over a metal clasp on the side. This, in boater terminology, is what you would call a “boat bite.” I was just glad it wasn’t a shark bite. We climbed onto Good Times just in time for sunset. As boaters returned to their boats, we listened in on drunken conversations over the radio, while barbequing and listening to cumbia under the party lights. The bright full moon filled the sky and we could see what looked like a cloud filled with lightning inside, far off in the distance. “The Beaver Moon” someone called it over the radio. “A beaver’s what??” someone responded back. The conversation went back and forth in confusion for quite some time, until Tim explained to them that the Beaver Moon was the first full moon in the month of November.

Day 10 - Wednesday, November 13th - At Sea:

We sat drinking coffee, preparing to set sail toward San Jose del Cabo. Tom flipped through a Baja-Haha boater guide which gave a few paragraphs of info on each boat. “He is not 61,” Tom said about a boat captain we had met at the party. “It says he is 61, but there is no way, right?” “Maybe 71, at least,” my dad responded. “Wait... there is another. They all say 61!” Tom realized. “None of these people are 61.” “Maybe, to be nice, they max the age out at 61 on the bios for everyone,” my dad suggested. We all laughed, but it seemed like the most plausible answer. “They’re 61 in boat years,” we all laughed.

The entire Baja-Haha fleet was preparing to move to another party spot for the day, a few miles away. Since we were slow, we decided we would abandon the fleet and head to Cabo early, since we had further to go than them anyway (they were going to Cabo San Lucas and we were going to San Jose del Cabo). A few other boats were setting sail with the same idea. As we slowly started to make our way out of the bay, the Poobah came over the radio to check in with every boat and get their status, as well as go over any important news or weather issues. The weather was perfect and warm, with a cool breeze. Yet according to the Poobah, this was all about to change. There was an advisory that a storm was coming. A possible hurricane. Tropical storm Raymond. Our options were to hunker down with the fleet in the bay they were all moving too, with the possibility of becoming stuck there, or leave early, as we were planning to anyway, to beat the storm. We said goodbye to the fleet, minus a small group of other boats, and continued the plan to leave. We were all feeling a bit nervous since the storm a few days prior was rough, and this was going to be much worse. A storm was not something we were hoping to go through again. And especially not a hurricane. We checked all of the weather charts we had access to and decided if we just go we should get to Cabo before it hits. We were projected to be in San Jose del Cabo in about thirty hours.

While we could, we enjoyed the day’s sunshine and beautiful weather. We saw whales, the guys fished, and Code Blue even made an appearance with no issues. It felt strange to be going back out to sea for one last small stretch. Two days and only one more night shift before we’d be land people again, after roughly ten days spent at sea. The other ‘Haha boats around us scattered quickly, and we were on our own. We called on the radio to one who was keeping a similar speed as us, and agreed we would check in with each other as needed throughout the next thirty hours. One of my goals for the sail was to swim in the middle of the ocean. I had a large blow-up shark I had packed in my backpack which I took out to jump into the water on. Everyone thought I was crazy. That I wanted to be out in the deep sea, unable to see below me, and to be doing so on a fake fish the size of a small seal, right after we had just been fishing as well. So the water was nice and chummed for a shark to come up and drag me under. I put on fins and a life jacket so I would at least bob back up. We took turns jumping into the water and swimming around, just for about thirty minutes or so, then went on our way. Dolphins followed us for miles as we sailed past islands, and at one point I saw a large marlin jump out of a crashing wave.

Nighttime was eerie. It took a while for the moon to rise up over the ocean. I had never seen it like that before, that I could remember. On land you sometimes see the moon up in the sky even in the daytime, but at night at sea the moon would sometimes take its time slowly rising up over the water then over the top of the sky. Without the moon out I felt dizzy. It was too dark to see what outside of the boat was up or down or near or far. Just blackness. All you could do was rely on the AIS screen. Bigger boats were appearing as we neared Cabo, which sometimes didn’t show up on the screen so we had to look out for their lights. These were fishing boats or sometimes cruise ships. They all stayed miles away. I spent my shift nauseous, but not fully sea sick, eating ginger candy and sipping on tea. There had been multiple nights towards the end of the trip where I had jumped out of a deep sleep, up to a standing position, because I had gotten the spins and needed to quickly reorient my equilibrium. It was rough, and because of this I had been getting less and less sleep throughout the nights.

It was hard to want to make food in the cabin of the boat at any time of day because of the sloshing back and forth, trying to catch yourself before sliding into a cabinet. Imagine having to hold on tight while using the toilet, as if on a Disney ride. It was kind of fun, in its own way. You mostly just get used to it, I guess. Although it blew my mind that people kept asking why I wasn’t bringing my sixteen-year-old dog to experience such a thing. A dog definitely wouldn’t be able to stand. Or drink or poop or pee or rest without being thrown into a wall. I think you get it. Okay for consenting humans, not good for special needs dogs who weren’t raised on a small sailboat.

Images of meals usually made when anchored (coffee was made daily)

Day 11 - Thursday, November 14th - San Jose del Cabo:

It was our last day at sea, and I think we were all ready to party. Party like we were about to arrive in Cabo even though we still had the entire day to sit on the boat. If we were lucky we would be arriving just before sunset. The sun was out and shining and the weather continued to be perfect. There were no signs of the upcoming tropical storm. Soon we could see the tip of Cabo, as we sailed with it in view for most of the day. We got phone service since we were close enough to the city, so we were able to blast cumbia again while sipping on beer in the sunshine. Cruise ships passed us, and more fishing boats. I was hoping for a dolphin welcome committee, yet instead we were welcomed in by clouds of orange butterflies as we passed The Arch of Cabo San Lucas. It was my first look at Cabo, yet we were passing it all. All of the mega-resorts and tourist bars. I couldn’t care less about them anyway. I sat at the front tip of the boat in the wind, with my bare feet dangling off the sides. It was so weird going from a tiny town with dirt roads, to a secluded fishing village, to a place that looked similar to Las Vegas.

Just before sunset we pulled up to the marina, past jumping manta rays, and ospreys watching from poles. We celebrated as we stepped onto land. We had made it from San Diego to San Jose del Cabo. First on the agenda was margaritas and tacos next to the marina at sunset. A nearby mega yacht had a couch on the back which my dad described as looking “naptastic.” So that became the word of the day, naptastic. We spent one night on the boat before checking into the El Ganzo hotel for a few more days. My dad and Tom’s wives flew in to meet at the hotel, as did two of their friends who would be helping crew the rest of the stretch to La Paz at the end of the week. Tim and I had to fly home to go back to work during that time, so a relaxing couple of days at the luxurious El Ganzo was going to be the end of our trip. Not before first exploring Cabo. All of the Baja-Haha boats who made it to Cabo without being stuck in the bay due to the upcoming tropical storm were to meet at the ending party at Squid Row. The evening was set up just for the Baja-Haha, then later would go back to being a club for tourists. My dad and Tom stayed at the hotel to spend time with their wives while Tim and I took an Uber the thirty minutes or so into Cabo San Lucas. This was surprisingly cheap, and every driver we met was extremely nice and pleasant to talk with.

Squid Row was ridiculous. Not our scene by any means, but we had to go say our goodbyes to whichever boater friends had made it. We saw Mykonos and had beers with Yosh. Absolute made it, who we cheersed and laughed with while watching men take Jell-O shots off of waitresses’ chests. A giant screen showed music videos to 80’s and 90’s pop and hip hop while the DJ instead blasted your typical wedding band music for men in Tommy Bahama shirts and penis-shaped balloon hats to sway to. It was delightfully tacky.

We had a great one and only night in Cabo San Lucas, then spent the next few days hunkering down from the storm in El Ganzo’s infinity jacuzzi, and walking around San Jose del Cabo’s downtown area when we could. For such a fancy looking hotel, El Ganzo is art-themed, and has artists in residence as well as a hatch in the restaurant’s floor that goes to an underground recording studio, which we got to drink and hang out in after returning from Squid Row. I loved the art. It was political, nonsensical, or sometimes just pretty. You could walk down a hallway and see where a bucket of paint was just thrown against a hotel room door.

Tim and I spent a few days with the rest of the crew, hearing about how one of the new crew members brought bananas on the boat and Tom instantly ran over to pick them up and throw them into the water yelling “what the hell is wrong with you?” Supposedly bananas on a boat are bad luck. After a few days of tamarind margaritas in the pool, the storm had stopped just in time for us to make our flight to Tijuana. Good Times ended up winning third place in the Baja-Haha, which sounds wonderful, but since it’s not really a race every boat that makes it after the first two tie for “third”.

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