Tuesday, November 13, 2007

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.

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