Reflections on the first six-months of cruising
JYC Article – Winter 2003
The hardest part is casting off the dock lines. Although we thought we had allowed plenty of time from our retirement in February to our departure in May to deal with most of the boat jobs, we still left with a long list of tasks undone. It’s a LOT of work getting ready. More money and more time than you imagine. One could spend an eternity getting ready unless you force yourself to just get on with it and leave the dock.
We left Juneau just before Memorial Day and escaped to Taku Harbor just to get away from town. We spent the next 3 ½ weeks working our way down the inside to Puget Sound. Our visit to Red Bluff Bay, passage through Dry Pass, and stop in Craig were all highlights that served to remind us that SE Alaska has some great cruising that we only started to explore in the 11 years we were in Juneau. One thing that we were also reminded of is that SE has some rotten weather. We had storm after storm the whole way south, with cold rain and strong winds forcing us to wait several days in different harbors as we worked our way South.
We hit Puget Sound in late June and really started to spend money. We added a custom radar arch from Tanner, a Spectra watermaker, a track and adjustable whisker pole, radar from Nobeltec, solar panels, and got our bottom cleaned and painted. And those were just the things that we paid others to do for us. We also did numerous small jobs ourselves all of which involved trips to the chandlery. We escaped from the chandleries in mid August with a trip to the Perry Design Rendezvous (where Bob autographed our boat) and then out the Strait of Juan de Fuca and on down the coast to San Francisco. After a week in San Francisco we headed south in one day hops until we reached Oceanside, about 40 miles north of San Diego.
I’d love to be able to tell you that we had great sailing down the coast, but that wouldn’t really be true. We had mostly light and moderate winds from directly astern accompanied by large quick seas directly on the beam. A really rolly ride. We learned to sit or hang on to something solid ALL the time. As we got further south the swell got gradually less, but then fog became our constant companion. Without radar we’d probably still be stranded somewhere south of San Francisco. Our experience in San Simeon is really typical. All day we had varying degrees of visibility up to maybe ½ mile. As we approached San Simeon the fog really closed in. We entered and got anchored amid other boats without ever seeing any land, even though we were only about 200 yards from the beach. I took the girls to the beach in the dinghy following a compass course while Heather watched the radar to guide me back if I got off course. We left the next day having caught only a momentary glimpse of land through a hole in the fog and continued to the next day’s anchorage in continuous fog.
We made a one month stop in Oceanside while we made trips to Colorado and Florida, and of course made more visits to chandleries and did more boat jobs while we waited for the hurricane season to end in Mexico. We got to San Diego at the end of October just in time for the fires and ash storms. The Baja Ha-ha, a cruisers rally from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas, started on schedule despite the smoke and disruption of the fires. We joined the roughly 130 other Ha-ha boats in a three leg “race” down the 900 miles to Cabo. Each day the weather and water got warmer. We reached Cabo and the permanent spring break atmosphere of that city and got out of town as soon as we could manage to get provisioned. From Cabo we headed north up the Sea of Cortez towards La Paz. We have quickly learned to avoid the days of strong northerly winds which kick up a really wicked chop that more or less stops forward progress. But that’s not bad. We are finally in cruising mode. We are content to stay where we are until the winds are right for the next move. We took about 10 days to make the 120 miles from Cabo to La Paz where we are staying for a couple of weeks.
So six months into our adventure what advice would we have for someone thinking about joining the cruising life:
Get a good dinghy with a powerful motor. Your dinghy is your family car so must be adequate to provide safe, reliable transportation. We ran into one couple that are doing a “trial cruise” to see if they like it and haven’t launched their dinghy. They had only been off their boat once (in Cabo) between San Diego and La Paz. How can they really get a flavor of the joys of cruising if they spend all their time on the boat?
Single Sideband Radio. Although we opted for only a receiver, which is essential for picking up weather forecasts, a transmitter would be a fun addition so we could participate in the daily nets rather than just eavesdropping. There are no “official” areawide weather reports for Mexico, so amateurs like Don on “Summer Passage” broadcast a detailed weather forecast for the Baja Coast, Sea of Cortez, Mexican mainland, and Gulf of Tehuantepec each day on several of the SSB nets. He seems to be more accurate than most National Weather Service reports I’ve ever heard!
Radar. We encountered lots of fog, especially along the Southern California coast. In 15 years cruising Alaska we never had radar and didn’t miss it much. By contrast, the passage down the coast would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, without radar. We use the Nobletec radar system which overlays the radar image over the chart. That is especially handy for Mexico where the coastline is not necessarily where it shows on the chart!
Baja Ha-ha. We enjoyed participating in the Ha-ha, but there are pluses and minuses. The positives: Everyone mentions the value of having a DEADLINE! This ensures that at some point you stop spending money and leave! Also fun are the friendships which develop and having bios on 100+ boats that you will likely encounter as you cruise Mexico. The negatives: It would have been nice to spend more time exploring the anchorages along the way. Also, once you get to La Paz there seems to be a somewhat negative attitude toward the Ha-ha boats – the invaders.
But the best advice we can give you is to take the challenge and go cruising if that is your dream. It probably won’t be what you expect, but it will likely be more interesting and rewarding than you hope. The hardest part is casting off the dock lines…
Chris and Heather Stockard and their dogs Kira and Minnow left Juneau on Legacy in May 2003 and are now in La Paz, Mexico preparing to sail to the Mexican mainland. You can see pictures and charts of their travels and read their on-line log on their website at http://www.legacysailing.com. You can email them at stockard "at" 123mail.net.