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

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great Post!
Thanks for keeping those of us that weren't able to go up to date!