Summerwind Aground in Baja Ha-Ha

November 4, 2016 – Bahia Tortugas, Baja, Mexico

The 350-mile San Diego-to-Turtle Bay first leg of the Baja Ha-Ha cruisers' rally featured the strongest, most consistent leg-long winds in the 23-year history of the event. After a 2.5-hour rolling start — motoring allowed — out of San Diego on Monday morning, the wind filled in nicely to the 18- to 25-knot range, just south of the Coronado Islands. It was just as Commanders Weather had forecast, and blew all the way down to Cedros Island, if not to Turtle Bay itself.

The only time the wind didn't blow at all for some boats was during the last few miles before the finish line to Turtle Bay, which is why it was so curious that it was in these benign conditions that, for the first time in a Ha-ha, a boat was lost on the shore. This was Steve Brodbeck's San Diego-based Newport 41 Summerwind. More on that later.

The wind on Leg One was generated by a high-pressure system, rather than by a daytime/nighttime high-pressure gradient between land and sea, so the wind didn't die the first evening as it traditionally does. It just blew steadily, absent the usual gusts. And it was reported to be just as windy, if not windier on the second day. The Ha-Ha fleet was spread out over more than 100 miles, so conditions varied from boat to boat. One boat reported seeing more than 30 knots, while we on the 63-ft mothership Profligate didn't see anything higher than 22 knots.

While the conditions weren't too much for 74-year-old Tom Carr on his Mirror Offshore 19, the smallest boat in the fleet, a few others had trouble. Matthew Miller's Long Beach-based Ericson 27 Vital Spark snapped her boom and wasn't alone in tearing her white sails. One boat had a headsail tear out of the top of its furler, and a number of autopilots couldn't handle the conditions.

Some crew had trouble also. A number of sailors who previously had been immune succumbed to mal de mer. One crew on a boat that had temporarily lost steering got a little freaked, expressing strong interest in being transferred to another boat, as difficult and dangerous as that would have been given the conditions. She was eventually consoled via VHF radio by the crew of other boats.

The event's Grand Poobah and crew aboard Profligate found the sea conditions to be surprisingly small, given the wind. For whatever reason, it was a very smooth ride no matter what jibe we were on. Profligate, the biggest cat in the fleet, hit lots of mid-teens and topped out at 21 knots. However, the seas did seem to temporarily build north of Cedros Island, where the bottom contour rises up. Sailmaker Chuck Skewes, a veteran of many offshore races, was surprised to see a few seas that he described as 16 feet high. "The conditions were fabulous," said Skewes, who was sailing on the La Cruz, Mexico-based Varianta 44 Nuevo Luna/Ullman Sails, owned by Rodrigo 'Pollo' Cuellar Dipp. The two men are partners in a new Ullman loft at La Cruz.

"We 'went down' three times," recalls Skewes, "but because we were surfing down big waves, not due to the wind. The last time we were pinned, so I had to crawl out of my bunk with a knife and cut the vang to get the boat upright again." The conditions constituted great fun for the more aggressive Ha-Ha participants. Most, however, sailed much more conservatively and didn't have problems. About a dozen decided to wait out the strongest weather by anchoring for the night at San Quintin.

An unusual number of boats reported being pooped during Leg One. The crew of Chris Perkins' San Diego-based Hylas 56 Manuela woke up on the second morning to discover that their eight-man Switlik liferaft was gone, apparently having been washed away by a wave. The Poobah reported the loss to the US Coast Guard, whose personnel forwarded the report to the Mexican Navy.

Yesterday's cruiser/Mexican kids' baseball game was a grand slam, with by far the most participants ever. After the game, more than $3,000 worth of new baseball equipment was donated to local boys and girls.

The three men aboard Summerwind departed Turtle Bay before the Poobah was able to debrief them, but given the fact there was little if any wind and no seas where the Newport 41 went aground — seven miles north of the Turtle Bay entrance — human error is suspected. The owner wasn't injured, nor was his 22-year-old son Andrew or 75-year-old crewman James Algert. The wreck was discovered, and the rescue effected by the Mexican Fisheries Patrol. The boat is a total loss but was insured. During the rally's 23-year history, this is only the second boat out of the 2,500 that has been lost. The first was a J/120 that sank after colliding with a whale in heavy seas.

Today is beach party day at Turtle Bay, so gotta run.

Richard Spindler
Grand Poobah
Baja Ha Ha