Wednesday, November 21, 2007

FUBAR: Time for farewells in La Paz

Date: November 19, 2007
Time: 09:20
Position: North 24 14.30 West 110 03.95
Location: Sea of Cortez—50 Nautical Miles South of La Paz
Course: 304 Degrees (True)
Speed: 9.0 Knots
Visibility: Unlimited

We are about 50 miles south of La Paz and one mile off Punta Santa Cruz. The sea is flat and the boat has an easy motion (I’m going to miss the motion of this big boat). This is the last day of our cruise and my last log entry.

Pacific Escort left Bahia de los Muertos about 07:00, along with the rest of the fleet and should arrive in La Paz about noon. Already the activity on the boat has changed. The last loads of laundry are being done. Bags are being packed and non-essential gear is being stowed. In the past, conversation was about the boat itself and what was going on around it. Now it is about the future: about leaving the boat, about airline schedules, about work back home. The SAT phone has been used more today than it has the entire trip, as people get caught up on what’s happening at their jobs, or schedule a ride home from the airport, or find out how a pet or a relative is doing. However, not everyone is thinking about the future. I’m out on the Portuguese bridge watching an albatross circle overhead, marveling at how long it can glide—I bet I’ve been watching it for five minutes and it hasn’t flapped its wings once.

1l:55—Having turned the corner at Punta Coyote, we are traversing the spur of land that sticks out into the Sea of Cortez and forms the eastern end of the large Bahia de La Paz—the Bay of La Paz. In another hour we will be at Marina Costa Baja, which has graciously made space for the entire fleet. However, not all is well with the fleet: Native Son, one of the boats still behind us, has radioed that they have had a small electrical fire near the starter solenoid for one of their two engines. They have shut the engine down as a precaution and are proceeding just fine on the other one; however, we are standing by. If they have a problem with their remaining engine, we will have to turn around, go back out, and tow them in. At least the sea is calm. We finally enter the marina and tie up, but remain on stand-by until Native Son finally arrives.

There is nothing for me to do now: Jim, Sue, Eric and James have been through the procedure of putting a boat in storage, that they have everything under control. So fellow journalist George Sass and I take a cab into La Paz to look around. La Paz is an old city and the main port for cruisers in the Sea of Cortez. The road along the strand in town highlights the beauty of the bay and ocean. There is some new construction, but much of the old is being preserved.

When I return to the boat, my wife Joyce has just arrived. Everyone gets to know each other over a glass of wine, and then she and I depart for the nearby Fiesta Inn, where we will be staying for a few days before flying back. That evening, the FUBAR fleet has its last party on the beach. Speeches are given and those responsible for making the cruise such a success are thanked. Then we are all off to bed—some of us in the hotel, most still in their boats. Many have plans to stay down here and continue cruising. Others will leave their boats here for a while and then return north with them.

The next morning, we all get up and meet at a farewell breakfast, where Captain Pat Rains gives a lecture on cruising the Sea of Cortez. Afterward we return to Pacific Escort for one last time. The boat has been cleaned from top to bottom and insides are immaculate and tidy. PAE owns the boat and plans to keep it here for others in the company to use, but they will also sell it if the opportunity arises. The Leishmans are all packed and ready to head for the airport and home today. We all say our goodbyes and leave. For the past two weeks, they have been my family and Pacific Escort has been my home and, more importantly, a way for me to experience a wonderful world few people ever get know. I’m really going to miss that boat.

--James Kirby, aboard Pacific Escort for the final time

“Far from welcoming a return, we rather resented going back to newspapers and telegrams and business. We had been drifting in some kind of dual world—a parallel realistic world; and the preoccupations of the world we came from, which are considered realistic, were to us filled with mental mirage.

“This trip had been like a dreaming sleep, a rest from immediacies. And in our contacts with Mexican people we had been faced with a change in experiences.”

-John Steinbeck, writing in The Log from the Sea of Cortez

FUBAR: Overnighting in Bahia de Los Muertos

Date: November 18, 2007
Time: 06:45
Position: North 23 03.03, West 109 29.03
Location: Five miles north of San Jose del Cabo, in the Sea of Cortez
Course: 5 Degrees (True)
Speed: 8.9 Knots
Visibility: Unlimited under blue skies, with low humidity

We have left Puerto San Jose and are headed for Muertos Bay about 50 miles north in the Sea of Cortez. The rest of the FUBAR fleet is out too: Samurai, the Nordhavn 64 is just behind us and the Nordhavn 57, Sanjero, is off our port bow. The air temperature is around 80 degrees and the wind water temperature is 78 degrees. There is an eight-knot wind from the north, which means that in reality, the air is still, and the sea is flat, except for a two- or three-foot swell. The east coast of the Baja Peninsula is about a mile off to port—miles and miles of pristine sandy beach, with low, green hills behind it—very unlike the rocky, forbidding west coast—and very unlike the stark, man-made geometry of Cabo San Lucas—all bright and rectilinear with condos and hotels. Jim Leishman, at the helm, comments that if he had a little all-wheel drive 4-Trax—as common as automobiles in this region—he could ride along the beach all the way from Cabo to our next destination—Bahia de Muertos. But then, one would miss the intimate connection we have with this sea. Earlier, a super-pod of about 100 dolphins swam by on a reciprocal course. Many of them came over and swam with Pacific Escort. I go forward to the bow to watch them. At any moment there are about a half-dozen riding our bow wave. I find myself wondering if this is some kind of adolescent ritual for them, “I dare you to ride the bow wave of that boat!” We also see manta rays—they half jump out of the water as we approach. There are some whales around too, but we don’t see any.

15:10—We reach tonight’s destination, the beautiful Bahia de Los Muertos—which refers to the dead-man type moorings that were used when there was a mining operation active in the bay. Now, real estate is the main industry here, as it is up and down this coast. Earlier, we discover that the muddy bottom at a previous anchorage has clogged the drain in Pacific Escort’s chain locker. Since we will anchor here as well, Jim and Eric have put our chain anchor rhode on a nylon rope snubber and then ran out the rest of the 300 feet of chain over the side, so that the clogged drain can be cleared. The job falls to Eric, who must go down in the empty, but muddy anchor locker with a hose and wash it out.

The rest of the evening promises to be blissfully uneventful. James snorkels in the 80-degree water, looking for his next catch. Later, he and Sue cook a spaghetti dinner, which is accompanied by a good red wine. The sunset behind the hills is beautiful. We all sense that this will be our last dinner together on the boat and savor each other’s company and the setting. Finally, we go ashore to a FUBAR party at Casa de los Sueños, a local real estate developer. The dinner is accompanied by a tour of his house, which is a stunning blend of contemporary and traditional Mexican architecture, adapted to the open-air beauty of its beach setting. Fountains and waterfalls splash in gardens and open courtyards and the bedroom opens onto an Infiniti pool overlooking the bay. When we return to Pacific Escort, we all agree that the house and grounds are indeed beautiful, but it doesn’t move from beautiful setting to beautiful setting the way a yacht can. By 22:00 everyone is in bed and the boat is quietly riding at anchor. The last leg of our adventure is tomorrow—a 50-mile run to the city of La Paz.

--James Kirby, aboard Pacific Escort in Bahia de Los Muertos

FUBAR: Exploring San Jose

Date: November 17, 2007
Time: 06:35
Position: Marina Cabo San Jose, approx 10 miles east of Cabo San Lucas

It’s a day in port, but we are up early to move Pacific Escort from our Mediterranean mooring to a slip on the other side of the marina, where we will have water and power. Not that we need it, we can carry 500 gallons and have a watermaker, but the sound of it running all night can be annoying when you are trying to sleep. After we park the boat is a slip that’s barely wide enough for it to fit (there was not enough room for fenders on either side), I’m free to explore nearby San Jose. It is a typical small Mexican tourist town: Relatively prosperous thanks to the new marina and close proximity to Cabo San Lucas, but not too sprawling and modern. There are also a good number of American expats, who have retired here. One of them tells me the FUBAR fleet is the biggest thing to hit town. I see several FUBAR people in town shopping and have dinner with Larry Lu Core and the crew from Brown Eyed Girl. Tomorrow, we leave for Muertos Bay, about 50 miles up the peninsula toward La Paz.

--James Kirby, aboard Pacific Escort

Monday, November 19, 2007

FUBAR: Heading for Puerto los Cabos

Our man James Kirby makes like Papa Hemingway in the Sea of Cortez.

Date: November 16, 2007
Time: 00:05
Position: Approx. 40 miles north of Cabo San Lucas
Course: 129 Degrees (True)
Speed: 9.32 Knots
Visibility: Approx. 10 Miles

Before going on watch I stop off in Pacific Escort’s engine room to visit my friends—Grendel and Beowulf, which is what I affectionately call the two beasts that propel the boat—twin Lugger 1066 marine diesels. I also check on our tireless 20-kilowatt Northern Lights diesel generator that runs 24 hours a day, supplying all the electrical power we consume. The diesels are all just fine, so I escape the 115-degree heat and deafening racket of the engine room (nobody enters here without sound-deadening headphones on) and go up to the pilothouse. I’m greeted by a blaze of lights from some boat about 500 yards in front of us! “What the hell is that!” I ask Eric Leishman, whose watch is just ending. He tells me it’s a commercial sport fishing boat out of San Diego called Red Rooster. As many as 20 to 25 sport fishermen pay thousands of dollars for the privilage of cramming into Red Rooster and fishing day and night off this coast. (gee, I really want to be on that boat). Red Rooster has AIS (Automatic Identification System), so Eric has known its course, speed and distance for a long time, and our radar indicates its closest point of approach, but the vessel has failed to answer our hail on VHF channel 16—too busy to talk, I guess. So Eric had to throttle back Pacific Escort and change course to avoid them. Red Rooster and their blaze of spotlights, finally fades into the distance, as they head for some fishing bank about ten miles off our port side.

When my night vision finally returns, I go out on deck to check out the stars. The familiar southern constellations are much higher in the sky now and the constellations of the northern sky, such as the big dipper are on the horizon. Back in the pilothouse, I imagine this is what it would be like on my own personal starship—moving through the starry sky, surrounded by the dim, red glow of instruments. Completely self-contained.

12:40— On the radar display, and spread out for miles around us, I can see the navigation lights of the rest of the fleet. The cruise ship Carnival Princess calls and politely warns us that some of the boats are directly in her path. She is about five miles off our port, and no threat to us, but some of the boats east of us will have to move out her way. The officer on watch apologizes, but says that there is a shallow bank to her west and the coast is to her east, so she must maintain her present course. Moving at 23 knots, it won’t take long for her to overtake them. We wonder if the guys on Brown Eyed Girl got the message. At 30 feet, she is the smallest boat in our fleet and does not show up on our radar, but Larry Lu Core and his experienced crew (all retired fire fighters) are on top of things. They make contact with Carnival Princess and arrange to avoid her. I watch Carnival Princess speed by in the darkness. Even at five miles, she is enormous! Lit up from one end to the other, and looking like an office building on its side.

06:00—The Cape!

“The great rocks on the end of the Peninsula are almost literary. They are a fitting Land’s End, standing against the sea, the end of a thousand miles of peninsula and mountain.”
—John Steinbeck

I’m awakened by a distinct change in the motion of the boat. Up till now, Pacific Escort has been making an easy trip south—the wind and sea at our back. But this wild pitching, corkscrewing motion tells me we have turned east toward Cabo San Lucas—the southern-most point on our voyage. In the pilothouse, a beautiful sunrise and the twin spires north of Cabo Falso greet me. The wind is blowing 20 knots across the deck and short, steep waves hit our port side. I go down to the galley and pour myself a cup of coffee, but while trying to negotiate the stairs back up to the pilothouse, I manage to spill a good deal of it on me. Ouch, that woke me up!

07:15—“Hook up!” This is the great sport fisherman’s paradise, Eric and James have four trolling lines out and it’s not long before they hook a fish. Jim chops the throttles and we all race back to see what’s on the line. It’s a yellow fin tuna—the first of four we will catch over the next 15 minutes. We are hoping to get a Marlin, as well.

As soon as we round the cape the wind drops and the sea goes flat. Looking toward the beach we see continuous development: Mile after mile of condos, multi-million dollar homes, hotels, divided highways and golf courses. After the wild desolation of Baja Sur, the effect is stunning—we could easily be cruising along any beach in Southern California. The big cruise ship that passed us last night is already tied up in the harbor and a fleet of fishing boats full of enthusiastic anglers is headed out from the harbor.

09:15—I count 46 fishing boats around us—everything from little pongas to the big sport fishing “battle wagons”. “Must be a tournament,” Jim remarks. He tells me that the next fish we hook is mine. Little do they know that will spell the end of their luck. When I fished with my family as a kid, I never caught anything, partly because there is no way to make an eight-year-old boy sit still for that long. However, it’s not very long before we get another strike and I grab the rod. I end up reeling in another yellow fin. Which will be part of tonight’s dinner.

10:00—We are about ten miles past the cape now, with our destination in sight—the new Marina Puerto Los Cabos at San Jose. We pass the breakwater and enter the harbor at 10:31. The marina is so new that concrete is still being poured and there is new construction everywhere. When it’s finished, it will be a great stop-off for boaters who want to avoid the hustle and bustle of Cabo San Lucas. Bruce Kessler is already at the dock, using a hand-held VHF radio to help direct boats to their appropriate slip. Quite a few of the fleet are over 50 feet in length and there aren’t enough big slips for them, so they have to med moor. Mediterranean mooring is common in Europe, but not in the U.S. To do it a boat drops it anchor, backs up and ties its stern to the dock. It sounds easy, but with a 10-knot wind from the side, tight quarters, a busy harbor and a big boat with lots of windage, it can be a real challenge. Several boats in the fleet have to make numerous attempts before they make it (no doubt we are the biggest entertainment this little harbor has seen in a while). With its experienced crew and powerful bow and stern thrusters, Pacific Escort has no trouble.

The first order of business for us, and the other boats in the fleet, is washing the boat and sprucing up the interior. Once everything is squared away and shipshape (I just love using those nautical terms), we all head off to a local hotel for fish tacos and cervesas. Unfortunately, it’s our last meal together. Jay and Jeff Leishman have to return home, to work, families and the normal world. They have been such good company. After lunch, they pack their bags and are off to the airport. With only five aboard, the boat is emptier now, but it never seemed crowded before (the sign of a happy crew) and they will be missed.

Later in the evening, there's a party for the fleet at a newly opened restaurant adjacent to the marina. It’s a time to get caught up with everyone, share gossip and find out how their vessels faired on the way south. Most of the boats in the fleet are not heavily ballasted passagemakers, like our Nordhavn 55; just motor yachts or sport fishing boats, but there have been no mishaps, injuries or mechanical problems to speak of. Attribute it to good preparation on the part of the FUBAR staff, and the skippers, fair weather and a bit of luck. We return to Pacific Escort—quiet now, except for the hum of its generator. Tomorrow, we get to sleep in and then explore the nearby town of San Jose.

--James Kirby, aboard Pacific Escort in Marina Puerto los Cabos

FUBAR: Exploring Magdalena Bay

Date: November 15, 2007
Time: 08:00
Position: North 24 32.76, West 112 05.76
Location: Magdalena Bay, Baja Sur, Mexico

08:00—It’s beautiful day: Sunny and bright, low humidity, clear, still air, the temperature about 70 degrees. Magdalena Bay, where we are anchored, is glass smooth, with a barely perceptible swell. I’m having a cup of coffee in the pilothouse of Pacific Escort. Already, most of the FUBAR fleet has sailed, beginning the 185-nautical mile passage to our next destination, Cabo San Jose in the Sea of Cortez. At eight knots, it should take them about 22 hours. As always we will be just about the last to leave, ready to help any stragglers along the way who may have problems. Thus far, our job has been pretty easy. Other than one boat that had hydraulic steering problems, our work has been restricted to helping fix the odd generator or plumbing problem.

With some time on our hands and the water and weather so perfect, Jim Leishman, skipper of Pacific Escort, his wife, Sue, and I decide to go explore the estuaries and canals at the north end of the bay. So we pile into the tender and are off, skimming across the bay at around 15 knots. Our only companions this morning are the ever-present pelicans. A flock of about 10 birds is gliding along next to us—wing tips just inches above the calm water. Like many sea birds, they take advantage of a phenomenon know as ground effect—riding the cushion of air trapped between their wings and the water—and can go for hundreds of feet without flapping.

We cross the bar at the mouth of the estuary and quickly realize that we have entered a completely different environment. Anchored in the bay, we can see for miles in every direction—the distant tan and dark gray lava hills the only discernable feature visible between the ocean and sky. However, the estuary is lined with towering mangroves trees that form an impenetrable green wall on each side. Silent and somewhat imposing, it reminds me of the jungle river ride at Disneyland, or a scene from the movie Apocalypse Now. Is Colonel Kurtz waiting for us up river? I find myself repeating one of the lines from the movie: “Never get off the boat.”

In the arid desert, just on the other side of the mangroves, life is sparse; here in the estuary, it is everywhere you look: Fish jump as we approach, Spanish moss hangs from branches and spider webs fill the space between them. Flocks of pelicans sleep on the bigger limbs, while sandpipers work the shore.

We spend about an hour exploring the various channels—Jim occasionally cutting the engine and letting the tender drift, so we can listen to the birds. Then we head back across the bay to Pacific Escort, first stopping by Que Será to get a weather update from FUBAR chairman and chief wrangler, Bruce Kessler. He tells us that no change is predicted—just more of the same: blue skies and calm seas under the Pacific High.

09:30—The anchor is weighed (a task made ridiculously easy thanks to Pacific Escort’s Maxwell windlass) and we are headed out of Magdalena Bay. On the way, we motor through a huge school of Mexican Crabs. Measuring about two to three inches across and red in color, they float just below the surface as far as we can see in every direction. Again, I marvel the contrast between the teaming life of the ocean and the barreness of the land. We cross the wide mouth of the Bay and head out into the calm, blue Pacific—185 miles to go to Cabo San Jose and the Sea of Cortez.

“The coastline of the Peninsula slid along, brown and desolate and dry with strange flat mountains and rocks torn by dryness, and the heat shimmer hung over the land . . .”
John Steinbeck

11:35—We arrive at the wreck of the Aurora—a Nordhavn 62 washed up on a small rocky, inaccessible beach beneath towering lava headland. Eric, Jeff and I take the tender over for a closer look, while Pacific Escort circles a half-mile offshore. It is a strange thing to see a boat—almost a ship—lying on its side, abandoned and forlorn. Apparently, she was heading north at night, with a competent skipper and crew of three aboard, when she ran into uncharted, submerged rocks off the small point just north of our position. With her propeller and rudder disabled, she drifted south for about a mile and fetched up on the shore. Unfortunately, the one crewmember died, but rest of the crew were eventually rescued.

In this age of GPS, chart plotters and radar, one wonders how such a thing can happen, but there are few landmarks or aids to navigation (or anything else for that matter) along this stretch of coast. It can be so dark that you can’t distinguish anything 100 feet in front of you and if conditions are stormy, or the water is rough, the radar may not distinguish the shore from sea clutter. Also, if the vessel is being steered by an autopilot on a magnetic heading, the current can set your vessel in toward the shore and you may never know it until it is too late.

We circle in the tender just offshore—Jeff and Eric serious and silent—no doubt contemplating the untimely destruction of something they so lovingly created. Finally, they make a few observations about how tough she is. Remarkably, despite several years of pounding surf working her against the rocks, Aurora’s superstructure and hull are still completely intact, with only a few gouges visible below the waterline. She looks like she could be re-floated and live again; however, James, who is an excellent swimmer and has been on her, says that despite the inaccessibility of her location, she is pretty well stripped. We snap a few pictures, head back to Pacific Escort and continue our voyage south—thankful for the fair winds, gentle, following sea and unlimited visibility under blue skies.

15:30—On the afternoon watch. We are about 20 miles off the coast, doing 8.7 knots. There’s a sailboat four miles off our port bow. With a 15-knot wind off her starboard quarter, sailing conditions are ideal and she is easily keeping up with us. But the wind speed drops and we eventually catch up to her. As we pass her, she unexpectedly turns into the wind (in irons)—something is wrong with her headsail-furling unit and somebody has to gone forward and fix it. I realize, maybe I don’t want to be sailing after all. Here on Pacific Escort, we make 8 knots, regardless of the wind and there is practically no need to venture out on the foredeck unless you want to. If you choose to do so you are about ten feet above the water and protected by 30-inch railings. As my watch ends, I go out on the Portuguese bridge forward of the pilothouse to watch the last rays of the sun—still no green flash. The smell of fresh grilled fish drifts forward from the cooker on the cockpit railing. I love coming off watch to a home-cooked meal.

--James Kirby, eating well aboard Pacific Escort

Saturday, November 17, 2007

FUBAR: A most memorable birthday

Date: November 14, 2007
Time: 08:00
Position: North 24 45.87, West 112 14.85, Bahia Santa Maria
Visibility: Unlimited under blue skies and scattered cumulus clouds
Temperature 69 degrees Fahrenheit

08:00—Today is my 60th birthday. Sitting in Pacific Escort’s saloon, I open birthday cards from my wife, Joyce, and sister Kathy. If they were here, everything would be perfect. Well, hopefully next time ... Otherwise, I would have to say this is one of the most memorable birthdays I have ever had.

We are still anchored in pristine Bahia Santa Maria, three-quarters of the way down the Baja Peninsula. However, there is little time to contemplate the picturesque beauty of this place. It’s high tide, and James, Eric, Jay and Jeff are anxious to explore the Canal San Carlos—a series of estuaries and channels that meander for miles parallel to the coast. We jump in the tender and are off—skimming the surface of the bay, headed for the sand bar and surf break that marks the mouth of the estuary.

The estuary and channels are a completely different world: An oasis of life in this desolate land, its banks are thick with Mangrove trees that several species of birds call home. A hawk circles overhead and fish jump as we approach. Ever the angler, James trolls a line behind us. About a half-mile in, we pass one of several fish camps. These tiny, little settlements are the homes of the local fishermen and their families. They look ramshackle and temporary, but always neat and orderly. Their inhabitants wave as we pass—the coast of Baja is still largely wild and uninhabited, but the isolated groups of native Mexicans who live here are always welcoming and friendly.

We explore several channels, following each one until it ends in an overgrowth of mangroves and we can go no further. At one point Jeff shouts, “Look out!” and Eric, at the helm, quickly turns to tender to avoid a sunken sailboat, its mast gone and the deck barely visible below the surface. How did it get here? Why did it sink? This is not a dangerous environment—there are no rocks or pounding surf to sink it. One can only speculate.

Back on board Pacific Escort we weigh anchor and move the boat to a dive spot near the entrance to the bay. But first, Eric and Jeff take advantage of the calm seas and take turns being towed on a surfboard. When we reach the dive spot, James, Jay and Jeff load the tender with spear guns, wet suits, snorkels and fins and head off to do some spear fishing. A half hour later they return triumphant. James, who seems to be half marine mammal, has speared a 60-pound grouper, which is quickly cleaned in preparation for the FUBAR potluck dinner later tonight.

12:00—We are heading south along Isla Santa Maria, the volcanic island that separates Bahia Santa Maria from the larger Bahia Magdalena—tonight’s destination. At 12:30 we enter Bahia Magdalena. Roughly 15 miles wide, it, and the adjoining Bahia Almejas, run for about 50 miles along the coast, sheltered by hilly, islands of ancient lava—another perfect bay. We make our way to the North-West corner of the bay, where most of the FUBAR fleet has anchored, just off the little fishing village of Bahia Magdalena—195 adults and 56 children, the welcome sign at the local restaurant proudly proclaims.

13:16—The local panga fishing boats have deposited us, and the members of the rest of the fleet, here for a potluck dinner. James’ grouper—fried in butter and garlic—is a big hit, as are the other delicacies the feet’s fishermen have brought. These dinners are a great way for the members of the fleet, who otherwise are restricted to communicating by VHF radio, to get caught up on all the news and gossip. The skippers I talk to, who were novice cruisers at the beginning of the rally, now exhibit a growing confidence in their abilities.

Before we head back to the Pacific Escort, I take a walk along the beach that fronts the village—past the stacked lobster pots, piles of netting and beached fishing boats. This town is small and poor, but it does have electricity. When the author John Steinbeck came this way in 1941, traveling aboard the fishing trawler Western Flyer, on an expedition to collect and catalog flora and fauna, he wondered if electrification would bring the benefits and the evils of modern civilization to these people. From the look of things, they have not suffered too much from either. However, Larry Lu Core, skipper of Brown Eyed Girl, who has a house in upper Baja, on the Sea of Cortez, notes that development has taken hold all up and down the coast in that area, and he believes the growing tourism is a good thing for the people of the region.

The party breaks up around sunset and we head back to our waiting boats, anchored just offshore; however, Jim and Eric still have work to do. One of the boats has generator problems, so they take the tender and go over to it to see what they can do. It turns out to be relatively simple. Air got in the fuel line, when the skipper switched filters. A quick bleeding of the system and everything is fine.

James Kirby, left, and Jim Leishman celebrate birthdays aboard Pacific Escort.

Back on board Pacific Escort, we have a little party in celebration of Jim Leishman’s birthday, a few days ago, and my own, today. The younger members of our crew—James, Eric, Jeff and Jay—stay up to party, but we put to sea again tomorrow and I’m on the 06:00 watch, so I turn in early.

--James Kirby, aboard Pacific Escort in Bahia Santa Maria, and loving it

FUBAR: Beautiful Bahia Santa Maria

Date: November 13, 2007
Time: 06:00
Position: North 240 57.75, West 112 38.15
Course: 141 Degrees (True)
Speed: 7.7 Knots
Water Temperature: 74 degrees F
Visibility: Unlimited, scattered, low cumulus clouds under a blue sky
Our man James Kirby on watch aboard Pacific Escort.

It’s 06:00 and the trolling lines are already out as we approach Thetis Bank, the 75-foot-deep fishing bank about 10 miles off the coast of Baja. Several other boats from the FUBAR fleet are here fishing too—Unreel, Big Mama and the two Nordhavn 43s—Rogue Manor and Wayward Wind. As we crisscross and circle in an area approximately a mile square in size, there is constant chatter on the VHF. The skippers inform each other of their course and intentions—nobody wants to snag a trolling line. We are all on Pacific Escort’s flying bridge—20 feet above the waterline, where we have a commanding view, of the surrounding water. Everyone is on the lookout for the telltale splash of a fish, or a Marlin breaking the surface.

08:46—Jeff is in the galley fixing a breakfast of bacon, scrambled eggs and toast when we hear a shout from the aft cockpit, “Hook up!” We look aft from the flying bridge just in time to see a Marlin jump—deep metallic blue and silver spray in the Pacific sunlight. Jim immediately chops the throttles and puts the boat in reverse. The swim platform digs into a following swell and everyone in the cockpit, and even up on the boat deck, is soaked by a boarding wave. But nobody cares. We’re all too excited, watching James play the fish. After a few minutes, the Marlin is along side. It’s too small to keep as a trophy, so Eric unhooks it and holds it in the water until its color returns and it swims away. Other than a few Bonito, we have no more luck on Thetis bank, so we head for Bahia Santa Maria, a perfect bay, separated from the larger Bahia Magdalena bay by a spit of land.

09:07—Virtually everyone one board is busy carrying out a time-honored nautical tradition—cleaning the boat before entering port. It’s not a port—per se—just a bay, but most of the fleet will be there. The Leishmans have been intimately involved in designing, building and marketing Nordhavns all their adult lives—since they were children in the case of Eric and James, and their pride in these boats shows. Pacific Escort is scrubbed from stem to stern. Having a large supply of freshwater certainly helps, as does a built-in vacuum system.

10:40–We are about two miles offshore, passing the rocky, arid headlands of Cabo San Lazaro—gray and tan hills rising about 300 feet out of the ocean. They are chiefly composed of lava and volcanic tuffa—weathered into peaks and cone-shaped talus slopes that run down to the edge of the sea. Perhaps during the rainy season, there is vegetation on them, but right now, they are completely devoid of anything green. At 11:45, we hear Sue yell. She has been sitting in the aft cockpit relaxing, when a fish hit one of the trolling lines. She grabs the rod from the holder, shouts, “That one’s mine!” and begins reeling it in. It turns out to be a Bonito—about five pounds, so they throw it back.

12:05—We enter the beautiful harbor of Bahia Santa Maria. Jim explains that this is one of the first places a cruiser heading north from Cabo San Lucas can duck in and get some relief from the constant beating of the north setting current and winds. With a clear, blue sky above, it appears to be the perfect hidden bay of a remote desert island—the kind of place sailors dream of. At 12:26 we set our 200-pound plow anchor in 35 feet of water. The bottom is sandy, with good holding. A warm 8-knot wind blows through the open doors of the pilothouse.

13:00–A Panga, one of the local 20-foot long, outboard-powered fishing boats that ply the waters around here, comes to get us and take us to the FUBAR dinner on the beach overlooking the bay. The tide is low, but the two Mexican fishermen driving the boat are experts at crossing the bar that leads into the estuary beyond. They land us and we join the party on the beach.

The beach dinner is a good chance to catch up on the adventures of the rest of the fleet. I check in with FUBAR chairman Papa Bruce Kessler. He says all has gone well and things are up to his expectations. With 52 boats and skippers of varying skill levels, that’s good. Dr. Jerry Kornfeld, our fleet surgeon, says there is nothing to report in the way of medical problems. Jerry, who is retired now, was once a doctor on a cruise ship. Now he lectures cruise ship audiences on various health issues as part of the shipboard entertainment. He has also authored the book, Your Hundred Year Heart. Mike Levitt, the skipper of the boat Robin Lee, which had the steering problems, says that since replenishing the system, it has worked fine. However, when he finally returns to Los Angeles at the end of the cruise, he will be taking the autopilot pump with him on the airplane.

The crew of Brown Eyed Girl, the smallest boat in the fleet, have fished their way south and are in high spirits, recounting the stories of their victories over Dorado, Yellow Tail and Marlin. Bob Godfrey, skipper of Unreel, plans to leave early in the morning for more fishing further south.

Shortly before sunset, we all board the waiting pangas, head out through the estuary and surf and return to Pacific Escort. It has been a long day and by 20:00, everybody is in bed, including me.

--James Kirby, aboard Pacific Escort anchored in Bahia Santa Maria

FUBAR: Heading south from Turtle Bay

Date: November 12, 2007
Time: 06:00
Position: North 27 41.08 West 114 53.12, Turtle Bay
Visibility: Approx. 1 Mile

It’s raining and overcast. What happened? Last night, the sky was perfectly clear, but the weather is completely different today. The tan, gray and rust colors of the surrounding hills, so crisp in the clear desert air yesterday, are shrouded in fog this morning. It’s as though the weather we left up north has caught up with us while we slept. Most of the FUBAR fleet is already headed out. In ten minutes almost all of them are gone—disappearing into the gloomy mist. The bay is quiet and practically empty. The only sound is the splash of a pod of dolphins, easily visible against the dark, oily calm water. They too are headed out, followed by a lone sea lion.

The crew of our boat, Pacific Escort, is up and moving too. At 06:20 we fire up the engines, weigh anchor and head out past the lobster pots that mark the entrance to Bahia Tortugas and into the fog shrouded Pacific. Jim Leishman and I are on watch. He comments that the air has a distinctly tropical feel to it.

08:25—We are approximately seven miles off of the coast. The fleet is just visible about two miles ahead in the lifting fog. The sport fishing boats, Big Mama and Fish and Game, discuss their estimated arrival time at Thetis Bank—the fishing grounds about ten miles off of our destination, Magdalena Bay. But first, there is 228 miles to cover. We all settle into our sea boat routine.

09:00—I go off watch, put on the sound-deadening earmuffs and take a turn around Pacific Escort’s engine room. Using an infrared pyrometer, I take temperature reading on the two 170-horsepower, turbocharged Lugger 1066 marine diesel engines that serve us so faithfully. All is well, the engine sumps read about 210 degrees Fahrenheit, coolant tanks and turbo charger housings read 190 degrees and the transmissions about 130 degrees. The ambient temperature in the engine room is 115 degrees—I have nothing but respect for the engine-room crews in the old-time diesel submarines and the continuous heat and noise they had to put up with.

09:30—The Betram 46 Live Wire, about two miles ahead of us, reports spotting whale spouts. At 09:50, just 4.5 miles off Pico San Pablo, we see them—two south bound Grays—their dorsal fins hardly visible as they break the surface in a smooth arc. As we pass by, 500 yards to their right, they sound.

10:07—Under a clearing sky with scattered clouds, we see a southbound ship. Our AIS (Automatic Identification System) tells us it’s the cruise ship Dawn Princess—length: 266 meters, beam: 32 meters. Eight-point-seven miles off our starboard beam, doing 19.2 knots—a floating hotel, casino and spa, with plenty of activities to keep its passengers happy. On Pacific Escort, we need no such distractions—the boat and its intimate connection with the sea around us, are more than enough.

11:23—Speed: 8.5 knots, Course: 140 degrees, Weather: sunny and clear, Seas: calm. Location: 15 miles off Bahia Anuncion. I’m in the middle of my daily fight with the SAT phone, trying to upload some text, when a big pod of dolphins changes course and heads our way. Several swim along in our bow wave for a few minutes, then they’re on their way.

12:40—We receive a call from the motor yacht Robin Lee over the VHF—located about two miles in front of us. They have lost hydraulic fluid from the steering system and have used up all their spare hydraulic fluid replenishing it. They cannot steer the boat manually and the autopilot is only working intermittently. They do not have an emergency tiller. You are only as good as your backup.

Coincidentally, the ocean is so calm that James and Eric, intent of doing some joy riding, have just launched the tender. Jim Leishman calls around to the other boats in the fleet and manages to locate several different kinds of hydraulic fluid, but a SAT phone call to PAE’s commissioning manager back in Dana Point reveals that only the specified hydraulic fluid should be used in the system. Fortunately, the sport fisher Robin Lee has spare fluid and a hand pump that’s needed to pressurize the system. She heads our way at 20 knots and Eric and James, in the tender, race out to meet her. At 14:40 the equipment is handed off and they head for the waiting Robin Lee. Robin Lee’s crew is able to replenish and pressurize the system and continue on to Magdalena Bay.

260 39.85 North Latitude
1130 59.54 West Longitude
Course: 145 Degrees (True)
Speed: 7.4 Knots
Visibility: Unlimited, a few scattered alto cumulus clouds

17:40—Jim and I are back on watch. The 15:00 to 18:00 watch is a good one: Everyone on the boat is active and social, anticipating dinner. It’s not unusual to find the entire crew in the pilothouse watching the sunset. It’s a great one this evening. We might even see the green flash—that small streak of green that appears on the horizon just after the sun sinks below it. We aren’t that lucky this evening, but the sunset still is spectacular, with Venus and the new moon appearing. Another school of dolphins appears, criss-crossing our bow in the last light of the day. Dinner tonight is steak and the last of the lobster James bought in Turtle Bay, followed by a movie.

24:00—Welcome to fish talk! I come on watch and in the darkness count the navigation lights of 17 boats, scattered over the ocean from horizon to horizon. It’s an impressive sight. The chatter on the VHF is mostly about tomorrow’s fishing off the Thetis Bank. James and Eric have been fishing all day and we plan to be there as well, so Jim gradually alters our course to put us west of the fleet.

At 02:00 Jeff and Jay relieve us and I head off to bed. It’s amazing. I brought a novel to read in the off hours, but between watches, learning to run the boat, social activities and what entertainment the sea has to offer, I’ve hardly had time to look at it.

--James Kirby, aboard Pacific Escort, headed south

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

FUBAR: Bahia de Tortugas aka Turtle Bay

Date: November 11, 2007
Time: 09:45 (Pacific Standard Time)
Position: North 27 41.08, West 114 53.12
Anchored in Bahia de Tortugas (Turtle Bay, Baja Sur, Mexico)
Visibility: Several miles under a clear sky

Big Mama has a problem: Having arrived in Turtle Bay yesterday, today is a layover day for the FUBAR fleet. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a day of rest for the crew of Pacific Escort. First thing this morning, Jim and sons launch the tender and head out to deal with the fleet’s various problems: Ron Smothers on Big Mama, a Uniflite 55 sport fisher, has discovered that one of the boat’s two freshwater tanks has mysteriously drained during the night. Jim has failed to find the source of the leak, so he has disconnected the crossover between the two tanks to ensure that the remaining tank doesn’t drain, leaving them without freshwater. Big Mama has a watermaker (indispensable in this arid region), but Jim offers to fill Big Mama’s water tanks from Pacific Escort’s water tanks once the leak is fixed. Meanwhile, James is over on Sans Souci, tracking down another plumbing problem, and the sport fisher Fishing Game Warden, needs a fuel filter. Back on board Pacific Escort, Jay is talking to a local fisherman—looking for lobsters for tonight’s dinner.

About 09:00 Jim, James and Eric return from their repair efforts. They get cleaned up and we all take the tender into the town of Turtle Bay. It turns out to be a sleepy, dusty little Baja town. Other than the cruising boats that stop in transiting to up and down the coast, the only industry appears to be the local fishing fleet. It’s Sunday and no one is about. Everybody is home, cooking Sunday dinner. A few, one-room markets and the small restaurant, next to the run-down pier, are all that is open. No doubt the town will be busier tomorrow, but we will be gone. The nicest building in town is the simple, clean church that occupies a picturesque spot overlooking the bay. We walk around a bit and then return to Pacific Escort. Jim has decided to move our boat further into the bay, where it’s calmer, in anticipation of transferring water to Big Mama.

This is a large, beautiful bay, ringed by stark buff-colored hills: Roughly three miles across and two miles deep, it averages about 35-feet in depth, with a good sandy bottom. It easily accommodates the 52 boats of the fleet and could probably hold four times that many. James, Eric, Jay, Sue, Jeff and I all pile into the dingy for a ride to the far side of the bay, where there is supposed be a graveyard of whale bones, left from the days when it was a stop for whaling ships. The tender is a 12-foot rigid inflatable with a steering station and a strong 40-horsepower Honda. Highly maneuverable and stable, it accommodates the five us surprisingly well; however, the 10-knot wind blowing across the two-mile fetch of the bay has kicked up a short, vicious chop at the far end. Thirty yards off the beach it’s already too shallow and Jeff, at the helm, has to raise the prop. We decide that it will be too difficult to get back out, so we abandon our plan of exploring the beach, but now the surf and wind are pushing us toward the shore. Jay and Eric, wary of stingrays, jump out to turn the tender around and push us out into deeper water where we can use the motor. If a tough slog and they report that several rays have brushed up against their legs as they walk along kicking up sand. It’s a good thing we didn’t try to wade to shore. After a heroic effort, working against the surf and wind, they get us out to where Jeff can lower the outboard and they jump back in. But it’s not over yet! We have to cross the bay straight into the wind and chop. It’s a rough, bumpy, cold, wet ride. By the time we reach Pacific Escort, we are all soaked. We all thought it was great fun. We’re also very glad, Pacific Escort is equipped with a washer, dryer and hot showers.

Back on board Jim informs us that that Big Mama is indeed going to raft up along side and take on water. We break out the hose and rig the starboard side with fenders and dock lines in anticipation of their arrival. At 15:36 they come along side and tie up. We pass the hose over to them and begin transferring 200 gallons of water from our 500-gallon freshwater tank. Meanwhile, Jim and Jeff go below and continue their hunt for the mysterious water leak. Finally, it’s located. A split anchor wash-down hose in the chain locker. The spigot has been left open and the water pressure eventually split the hose. Coiled against on top of the piled-up anchor rhode it was impossible to see, but when it was uncoiled, the fine spray was immediately apparent. It also solved the mystery of why none of the leaking water ended up in the bilge.

Good news, James has gone ashore and managed to buy about a dozen fresh lobsters, they’ll go well with the steak and baked potatoes Sue is cooking for dinner. After dinner, the evening’s entertainment, for me, is watching a perfect crescent moon, hanging just above the hills to the west, which are themselves silhouetted by the pink light of the setting sun behind them. Venus hangs a hands breadth above in a cobalt sky that shades to velvet black directly overhead. Tomorrow, we will escort the fleet on its 228-mile run to Santa Maria.

--James Kirby, aboard Pacific Escort in Bahia de Tortugas

Some of the crew of Pacific Escort, from the left: Jay Leishman, brother Jim, his wife Sue and sons Eric and James.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

FUBAR: Ensenada to Turtle Bay

Date: November 10, 2007
Time: 08:28 (Pacific Standard Time)
Position: North 29 00.4, West 115 27.7
Course: 157 (True)
Speed: 8.3 Knots
Visibility: Approximately 10 miles

The sun has returned! Some low clouds, a 15-knot wind from the South-South West and a four-foot swell running under our starboard quarter—perfect sailing weather. Pacific Escort also benefits from this tailwind. Skipper Jim Leishman and I are on the 06:00 to 09:00 watch. Our position is about 35 nautical miles off shore and 41 miles north of Isla Cedros (Cedros Island).

The north facing Bahia Vizcaino is a large crescent-shaped bay approximately 80 miles across, roughly half-way down the Baha Peninsula. The western-most end of the bay is delineated by a horn-shaped cape jutting into the Pacific Ocean—Punta Eugenia (Point Eugenia). Fifteen miles off this promontory to the north, sits Isla Cedros—twenty miles long—north-to-south—and 10 miles across at its widest point. Just south of it, and only five miles off of Punta Eugenia is the smaller Isla Natividad (Christmas Island). We will negotiate this passage about dusk, keeping the two islands to starboard and Punta Eugenia to port. Our destination, Bahia Tortugas (Turtle Bay), lies about 15 miles farther south. We expect to arrive there around 20:00 hours. We left Ensenada around 09:30 yesterday. As the main escort vessel for the fleet of 52 motor yachts that make up the FUBAR rally, our job is to hang back and assist any vessels that might encounter problems along the way. So far, there have been none.

As well as the return of the sun, we notice that the water temperature has also gone up from the 58 degrees Fahrenheit at Ensenada, to 66 degrees. Eric and James have trolling lines out. Perhaps we will have Yellow Tail for dinner.

11:04—Jay spots Isla Cedros first—rising out of the mist, still 20 miles away.

11:41—“Hook up!” The shout comes from the cockpit indicating a fish has hit one of the trolling lures. Jeff throttles the twin Luggers back to idle and Pacific Escort slows to about three knots. We all race back to the cockpit to see what’s on the line. It’s a Bonito—about eight pounds. One of three we will catch today. We release them all; we are after bigger fish. Others in the fleet have better luck. Brown Eyed Girl catches two Yellow Tail in the same area.

15:20—The weather is clear, Jim thinks it will probably stay this way for the rest of the trip. With Isla Cedros about five miles off our starboard side, the wind across our bow is down to zero. We can make out the details of its topography: It looks a lot like Santa Catalina—off Southern California—rocky, arid and mountainous. Just 40 miles to go to Bahia Tortugas. We estimate we will be in about 20:00.

17:47—I’m at the helm as we negotiate the strait between Isla Natividad and Punta Eugina. San Souci, Ken Williams’ Nordhavn 68, and one of the lead boats, is already anchored in Bahia Tortuga. He has warned us over the VHF; that there is lobster traps in the strait. In the fading light, we see each one when it is only about 50 feet away. Barely enough time to disengage the autopilot and swing the boat out of the way.

19:06—We enter Bahia Tortuga. In the old days, entering an unfamiliar harbor at night would be madness! A prudent skipper would lie off until morning; however, this is the 21st Century. With radar and a GPS chart plotter, we know our position, the position of our destination and the route to take to get there. Besides, the rest of the fleet is already anchored. We call Sans Souci on the VHF and they help guide us in, warning us of still more lobster traps, which as always, seem to be set right in the way. I’m on the bow with the hand-held spotlight (at least they stand out in the beam) and Eric and Jim are on the flying bridge, piloting the boat.

19:30—we drop our 200-pound plow anchor in 36 feet of water, pay out 200 feet of 3/8-inch chain rhode, shut down the big, sweet diesels and turn on our anchor light. 50 boats of the FUBAR fleet are anchored in this perfect bay. Sans Souci is next to us. We wait up to help direct the last two boats to their anchorage—Wayward Wind and Rogue Manor—two Nordhavn 43s.

“There is nothing so quiet as a boat when the motor has stopped: it seems to lie with held breath. One gets to longing for the deep beat of the cylinders.”

--James Kirby, aboard Pacific Escort in Turtle Bay

FUBAR: Birthday boy to the rescue

Date: November 9, 2007
Time: 07:40 (Pacific Standard Time)
North 31 51.65, West 116 36.48
Cruise Port Marina, Ensenada

Our boat, Pacific Escort is just stirring, but other boats of the FUBAR fleet have been leaving since dawn on. Heading out on the 282-mile second leg, from Ensenada to Turtle Bay, the estimated time of the trip is around 30 hours. On channel 16, the Ocean Yacht 52, Unreel reports that they are headed out too. Skipper Robert Godfrey and his crew are one of the more experienced boats in the fleet. They’re big enough to run fast, around 10 knots, and they’re anxious to get to the good fishing grounds. We, on the other hand, will leave port last. As the main escort vessel for the fleet, we will bring up the rear; so we’re taking advantage of the late morning start to get a few extra hours of shuteye.

It’s our skipper, Jim Leishman’s birthday, but he’s not getting to sleep in. At 08:00, there’s a knock at the pilothouse door—one of the crew of the Patricia, an Ocean Alexander 58, reports they’re having generator problems. Can we help? With hot water, refrigeration and an extensive array of electronic, these boats live and die by their generators, so Jim and older brother Jay grab the voltmeter and head for Patricia, tied up at the other end of the marina. Neither of them have even had their morning coffee yet. On board Patricia, Skipper Don Roose reports the generator was running fine yesterday, but today, repeated cranking has failed to bring it to life, and now there’s not even any current to the starter. He suspects that the culprit is some kind of as yet undiscovered, circuit breaker, fuse, or corroded connection, but has failed to locate it.

It’s not as big as Pacific Escort, but the Ocean Alexander does have a dedicated engine room, so Jim and Jay won’t have work in a cramped engine bay. Don keeps it neat and clean, and there is a complete assortment of tools on hand, but the Onan generator is crammed against the wall and the back of it is almost impossible to get at. Voltmeter in hand, Jim wades in. An hour later, he has still failed to find source of the open circuit, but like a terrier with a rat, Jim refuses to give up. He knows if the problem isn’t located soon, Don will have to take the boat over to Baja Naval, the local yard, which will probably cost him a day in time. Finally, Jim finds the fault, an in-line fuse hidden in the wiring bundle. Don has a spare on hand. We replace it and the generator fires up immediately.

09:05—back on Pacific Escort Sue and Eric have cooked a big in-port breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon and potatoes. Everybody gratefully wolfs it down and starts securing the boat for sea. At 09:15, the big twin Lugger engines come to life, the dock lines are untied, the fenders pulled in and Pacific Escort heads out to sea.

09:30—we clear the harbor. The low hills of the Baja coastline, usually baking in the desert sun, have already disappeared in the haze and overcast. The air is cool and damp, so we shut the sea doors and turn on the heat. About five miles offshore Pacific Escort turns to port and heads south, our only view of the coast is on the ever-present radar. Most of the fleet is about 30 miles ahead of us. From the radio reports, it sounds like all is going well.

11:00—Where’s that damn rock! Jim and Jeff are checking the electronic chart plotter, the radar, the back-up electronic chart in the laptop and the paper charts. None of these seem to be in agreement about the location of a small island about five miles ahead of us. We go with the radar. Still, but it’s disconcerting and we are all relieved when we pass it, well off to port. The lesson: Don’t rely on one source for your navigation data.

12:00—There’s some chatter on the VHF from the fleet, but otherwise, all is quiet in the pilothouse. Eric, at the helm, is munching on a tuna sandwich and I’m carrying on my on-going war with the SAT phone, as I try to upload some photos to PAE back in Dana Point. Down in the main saloon, an intense game of video golf is being played. When it’s over, there’s another movie to watch. With seven people on board, something is always going on. Fortunately, Pacific Escort is a roomy boat and the Leishmans have a long history of voyaging together, including a 26-week circumnavigation on a Nordhavn 40.

15:00—Jim Leishman and I come on watch. At 15:16, Wayward Wind, a Nordhavn 43 about 9 miles in front of us reports hundreds of dolphins around their boat. Hopefully, we will encounter the same super pod. Aside from the odd sea lion or dolphin, marine life has, thus far, been scarce. But the sky is finally clearing. There’s alto cumulus overcast high above, and we can see the coast, about 10 miles off our port side, so viewing conditions have improved considerably.

Time: 15:26
300 04.0 North Latitude
1160 28.8 West Longitude
Approximately 10 miles off Punta Colonet
Speed: 8.8 Knots
Course: 1620 (True)
Water Temp: 580 F

Whales! Jim spots them first—spouting about a quarter-mile in front of us. Jay grabs his video camera, I grab the binoculars and we scramble up to the flying bridge. It’s a pod of about a half dozen. And under the Pacific sky, they are indeed blue! They sound, the last one diving when we are still about 500 yards away. The gray whales are also heading to their ancestral calving grounds in the Sea of Cortez this time of year, so maybe there will be more sightings as we get farther south.

17:41— Sue has bought a crock pot just for this trip and the smell of cooking pot roast, fresh green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy permeates the pilothouse and whets the appetite. At 18:00, six of us sit down in the saloon for dinner. Jeff is on watch, a few short steps away in the pilothouse, so we bring him a plate.

Date: November 9, 2007
Time: 24:00 (Pacific Standard Time)
290 51.5 North Latitude
1160 02.6 West Longitude
Approximately 10 miles off Punta Baja
Speed: 8.2 Knots
Course: 115 (True)

Jim and I come on watch and relieve Eric and James. Having grown up Nordhavn, both have thousands of sea miles experience, so whether they’re backing a 130,000-pound boat into a tight slip in a cross wind, or inching their way down a fog-bound coast at night, they both exhibit an enviable mastery of these boats. At the moment, they are discussing two popular topics aboard Pacific Escort—surfing and fishing. Starting tomorrow, we’ll be entering some of the better fishing waters, so they’ll be trolling in earnest.

Although Pacific Escort is equipped with every system a skipper could want, it lacks a simple outdoor thermometer, so I step outside to check the temperature and have a look around. I am rewarded with a spectacular view of the heavens: Thousands of stars stand out against the black sky and the Milky Way is clearly visible overhead. Looking south, I can make out Sirius, Orion and Mars—all higher in the sky than the last time I saw them in Los Angeles. It’s a view sailors in open-cockpits sailboats know well, but we are denied unless we step out onto the Portuguese bridge; however, I do have the satisfaction of stepping back into a warm, dry pilothouse when the chill finally gets to me. At 02:00, Jeff and Jay relieve us. I go to bed, and am lulled to sleep by the reassuring hum of the twin diesels directly below my berth.

--James Kirby, aboard Pacific Escort, bound for Turtle Bay

Jim Leishman and son James in the pilothouse of the Nordhavn 55 Pacific Escort.

FUBAR: Poking around Ensenada

Date: November 8, 2007
Time: 22:00 (Pacific Standard Time)
North 31 51.65, West 116 36.48
Cruise Port Marina, Ensenada
Course: To town for lunch and then back to the marina for dinner
Speed: A leisurely walk

Port Log: To everyone’s amazement, especially FUBAR Chairman Bruce Kessler, around 20 boats managed to fill up at the fuel dock on the same day they arrived. The last boat left the fuel dock in the gray twilight as night fell. By then, the guys doing the fueling had it down to a precision choreography, as skippers were directed to tie up, then move up to fueling position when it was their turn, top off their tanks, then pull away—kudos to the PAE guys, fueling crew from the marina and FUBAR coordinator Bruce Kessler, who oversaw the whole operation and kept it from becoming a real " FUBAR " . Bruce’s patience and knowledge, gives everyone, especially the novices among us the confidence to make this trek. An accomplished circumnavigator in his own boat, Zopilote, retired auto racer and successful Hollywood director, he reminds me of an old-time wagon-train boss: stern and cajoling when he needs to be, but invariably patient, calm and willing to go the distance to get something done. I never hear him say, “no” to anyone (although I’m sure he must have to from time to time). Instead, he always gives positive advice and works unceasingly to try and find a way to accommodate people’s requests and needs. I’ve taken to calling him “Papa Bruce” behind his back.

Having completed fueling on Wednesday, we were free to spend all of Thursday enjoying the city of Ensenada. The city has grown and thrived on tourism. Every day one or two big cruise ships arrive and disgorge hordes of passengers. There is new construction everywhere. Cruise Port Marina, where we tied up, is just a short walk from the central shopping district. Most of the crew of Pacific Escort—Jim Leishman, Jim’s wife Sue, his two brothers Jay and Jeff and the boys (hardly boys) Eric and James, went off and played nine holes of golf. Felizardo Pérez from Proturismo de Ensenada helped plan activities for the fleet, including a vineyard tour (judging from the misty weather, they must grow some excellent wines, and I was told that they distribute throughout Mexico) and Captain Pat Rains, the fleet’s cultural advisor, also conducted a shopping tour. Having spent years cruising up and down the west coast delivering boats, few people know Mexico so intimately as her.

Thursday also gave the FUBAR fleet’s skippers a chance to fix any problems that might have cropped up on the shakedown run from San Diego—the odd chafed hose or loose battery hold-down clamp. An informal survey among several of them at the fleet dinner indicated no major problems and more importantly, a growing confidence in their abilities. One boat that is of particular interest, the Skipjack 30, Brown Eyed Girl, is the smallest boat in the fleet; however, the experience of her crew is vast.
Skipper, Larry Lu Core and his two-man crew are all retired fire fighters and paramedics from the San Diego area. They are avid fishermen, with retirement homes in Baja on the Sea of Cortez and they have made this run before. They are looking forward to fishing the banks off of Magdalena Bay. For the 282-mile run from Ensenada to Turtle Bay, they have topped off Brown Eyed Girl’s 225-gallon tanks. They also carry another 30 gallons on deck. Fleet surgeon Dr. Jerry Kornfeld has also pressed them into service as back up medical help, in case he needs it, but for now, all is well.

After dinner, we return to Pacific Escort, where Jim, Jeff, Eric and James gather in the cockpit and reminisce over a brew. Turns out Jeff had an alternate career as a world-class surfer (somehow a surfer’s intimacy with the water seems an appropriate background for a yacht designer), Jim bicycled competitively and is an avid off-road motorcyclist, James was a competitive swimmer and Eric has participated in the Baja as pit crew. Appropriately, the race teams participating in this year’s race have begun arriving in town just as we are leaving (the bars of Ensenada will no doubt be busy this week). As for the members of our little fleet, they have a long run ahead of them, with an early start in the morning, so most of the skippers and their crew have turned in early. I do the same, leaving before the traditional Leishman arm wrestling competition begins.

--James Kirby, aboard Pacific Escort in Ensenada

Thursday, November 8, 2007

FUBAR: San Diego to Ensenada

Lucas Willemse from the Del Rey Yacht Club and Bob Senter from Northern Lights and Alaska Diesel conduct an inspection of Ron Smothers’ Uniflite 54 Big Mamma prior to the start of FUBAR.

Date: November 7, 2007
Time: 0800
North 31 40.98, West 117 00.65, 22 nautical miles NW of Ensenada

Course: 154 Degrees (True)
Speed: 9.3 Knots
Visibility: Approx. 1 Mile

We are three miles off the coast of Mexico and 22 nautical miles NW of Ensenada—our first destination and our port of entry into Mexico. Jeff Leishman is at the helm. There are seven of us aboard the Nordhavn 55, Pacific Escort: Jeff, his two brothers Jim and Jay, Jim’s wife Sue, their two grown sons, Eric and James, and myself. We will spend the next 15 days together cruising south along the desolate west coast of the Mexican Baja peninsula, stopping at Ensenada, Turtle Bay, Santa Maria, Cabo San Jose, Muertos Bay and finally the city of La Paz on the Sea of Cortez.

Pacific Escort is the lead escort vessel of the FUBAR fleet. Contrary to what you might think, FUBAR stands for Fleet Underway to Baja Rally. Organized by the Del Rey Yacht Club in Marina Del Rey, Los Angeles. The FUBAR fleet is made up of an eclectic group of 52 yachts ranging in size from 30 to 96 feet. Perhaps half the fleet consists of sport fishing and motor yachts averaging around 45 to 55 feet in length--boats that normally don’t make long passages like this--while the rest are long-range trawler types, like Pacific Escort.

The fleet has spent the last four days assembling in San Diego, and then it left early this morning. We expect them to start arriving in Ensenada, 65 miles south of San Diego, around 1000 hours Friday. In order to be there when they arrive, Pacific Escort left Dana Point, PAE’s home port, last night at 2100. A nice eight-knot wind from the North has pushed us along, with a gentle swell under our stern. Offshore, we engaged the TRAC stabilizers so that the off-watch could get to sleep and settled into piloting the yacht southward. The loom of the lights from the southern California cities of Oceanside, La Jolla and San Diego, about five miles off our port side. Our only companions on the dark Pacific have been the odd fishing vessel, or a moored cargo ship, seen only on radar. However, during their watch, Jeff and Jay reported seeing the eerie phosphorescent glow left by dolphins as they swam along in our bow wave. Otherwise, the first night of our passage has been routine.

At 0900 we see the Offshore 54 motor yacht, Helen B. She is about a half a mile off our port quarter, and the first vessel from the fleet that we have seen. Skipper Richard Giss hails us on VHF channel 16 and tells us of his intention to make a turn to port in about a half hour and head into Ensenada harbor. Cruise Port in Ensenada is ready to receive and fuel the fleet.

At 1004 Jim hails, the Nordhavn 76 Cadenza, one of the lead boats in the fleet. Skipper Dave Fulton reports that he has heard of no problems with the fleet thus far. Which is good, because the experience level of the fleet skippers varies: Some participants, such as the Leishman’s, and FUBAR organizer Bruce Kessler, have many long-distance ocean passages under their belts. For others, the sum total of their experience consists of running to Catalina or the Channel Islands. The rally, with its extensive logistical and technical support provides them with the expertise and assistance they need to confidently undertake such a trek.

At the moment, Jeff and Jim are discussing Pacific Escort’s fuel consumption and her speed during this leg of the journey (around 8.5 gallons-an-hour at 9 knots). Appropriately, fuel burn is on every skipper’s mind. Many of the boats are planing hull types, used to running 13 to 20 knots and burning around 28 gallons an hour. Not all of them have experience running their boats at a nine-knot hull speed, but that’s what they will have to do to make the distance between fuel stops--the run from Ensenada to Turtle Bay is approximately 282 nautical miles and will take around 33 hours if they go the recommended 10 knots. The leg from Turtle Bay to Santa Maria will be 228 miles and will take roughly 23 hours. These distances will tax the range of their boat--there will be no running on afterburner. The smart skippers are using this short run from San Diego to Ensenada to calibrate their fuel monitoring systems and calculate their fuel consumption.

Captain John Rains (left) and Bruce Kessler from the Del Rey Yacht Club give last-minute instructions to FUBAR skippers assembled in San Diego.

The level of detail of organization that has gone into this effort is very impressive. FUBAR chairman, Bruce Kessler, assistant chairman Jo Swerling and the rest of the committee that comprise the FUBAR organization have attended to virtually every logistical detail: Docking, immigration, fueling, even shopping trips have been planned. In the months preceding the rally, FUBAR organizers held seminars on topics as varied as weather, maintenance, routing, provisioning and cooking. Dr. Jerry Kornfeld, the fleet surgeon has conducted several seminars on offshore first aid and medicine, and has provided the skippers with a detailed list of first aid supplies to stock. Ita Gordan has briefed the skippers on immigration procedures and the legendary Captains, John and Patricia Rains, authors of the essential Boating Guide to Mexico, as well as long-time delivery captains up and down the West Coast, have signed on as route planners, cultural attaches and port information resources. There is even a fleet translator, a staff meteorologist in charge of fleet weather routing, an Internet support coordinator, two advance team members and two technical advisors. The organizers have even put together an operations manual for each skipper, with instructions for each leg, maps and charts, a schedule and pertinent information on each stop.

Over 50 sponsors have donated equipment and loaned boats and personnel in support of the rally, which is why we are here. After the success of the PAE sponsored North Atlantic Rally, Bruce Kessler asked PAE if they would help out with the FUBAR rally. PAE responded by providing this Nordhavn 55 to be the lead escort vessel.

At 1050, we make our turn to port and enter Ensenada harbor, pass the moored fishing fleet and several large cruise ships, and eventually tie up at Cruise Port Marina. We have officially completed our first leg. Captain Jim Leishman collects our passports and the necessary paperwork and heads off to see the port captain. All of Wednesday will be taken up fueling the fleet in preparation for the long distance run to Turtle bay. There is also a shopping tour, a vineyard tour and a party planned for Thursday night. We are scheduled to leave Ensenada Friday morning, November 11.

Jim Leishman and son Eric dock Pacific Escort in Ensenada at the end of the first leg.

--James Kirby, aboard Pacific Escort in Ensenada